NASCAR playoffs at Talladega results: Ryan Blaney beats Kevin Harvick in photo finish to win the YellaWood 500

LINCOLN, Ala. -- After a last-lap duel with Kevin Harvick that went all the way to the start/finish line, Ryan Blaney prevailed in a photo finish to win the YellaWood 500 at Talladega Superspeedway, beating Harvick to the line by a scant 0.012 second margin of victory. Blaney's win is his second of the 2023 season, his third career win at Talladega -- and most importantly, it moves him on to the Round of 8 in the NASCAR playoffs.

After leading the outside line coming to the white flag, Blaney surged toward the front off Turn 2 and then cut to the bottom as Harvick came up to block him. Blaney emerged out front through Turns 3 and 4, but Harvick was able to surge back toward the front coming off the final corner and through the tri-oval coming to the checkered flag.

As the field wrecked behind them, Blaney beat Harvick by inches to the checkered flag, adding yet another dramatic victory to his Talladega resume. All of Blaney's Dega victories have come in photo finishes by a combined margin of victory of 0.026.

Harvick's second-place finish did not stand, as he would be disqualified in post-race tech inspection after his car's windshield fasteners were found to not be secure.

YellaWood 500 unofficial results

  1. #12 - Ryan Blaney
  2. #24 - William Byron
  3. #11 - Denny Hamlin
  4. #7 - Corey LaJoie
  5. #2 - Austin Cindric
  6. #31 - Justin Haley
  7. #9 - Chase Elliott
  8. #41 - Ryan Preece
  9. #36 - Riley Herbst
  10. #99 - Daniel Suarez

"Pretty wild last restart, but let alone last couple of laps -- Kind of losing momentum, getting it back, just getting clear to the bottom to kind of get to the front row and drag race it out with Kevin," Blaney told NBC Sports. "... To win three times here at Talladega, that's super cool."

Sunday's race went into the Talladega record books for not only its close finish -- the sixth-closest in speedway history -- but also for the sheer competitiveness of the race from start to finish. 70 official lead changes were recorded among 24 different drivers, marking the sixth-most lead changes in any Talladega race all-time and the most since the fall of 2011.

Dega the Destroyer

The reason that the playoff race at Talladega is so dreaded is because it can create devastating and potentially fatal setbacks in a driver's race for the Cup Series championship, and such setbacks are often -- but not always -- completely out of a driver's control. Two examples, on opposite ends of the spectrum, were seen Sunday.

On the final lap of Stage 1, Ricky Stenhouse Jr.'s car stumbled and ran out of fuel at the front of the lead pack, creating a very tight squeeze as the field entered Turn 3. Ross Chastain couldn't make it through the squeeze, as he was turned around and into the outside wall in a crash that caused terminal damage to his car -- leaving him with a last-place finish -- while also causing some damage to Kyle Busch and Christopher Bell's cars.

"It's just the way it goes. Nothing personal with it, I don't take any of this personal here," Chastain told NBC Sports. "I could've stayed bottom a few laps earlier, probably, and been safer. Just kind of had a cars land in my lap there. And I went for the gap -- Obviously I wish I would've lifted now. But (I'll) study that and be better next time."

Later in the race, Brad Keselowski would inadvertently put his own destiny and demise in his own hands. Aggressively trying to bump draft and push Carson Hocevar forward in the top lane, Keselowski turned Hocevar down the track and into Austin Dillon and Ty Gibbs, who proceeded to come up and clip Keselowski on their way to the outside wall exiting the tri-oval.

The ensuing multi-car crash took Keselowski out of the race, leaving him the last driver still above the cut line by just two points.

"We got kind of shuffled to the outside line here," Keselowski said. "The No. 42 pulled up in front of me and I'm like, 'Alright, let's go, we're gonna run back up to the front.' I just pushed him and he kind of instantly spun out. I don't think he did anything wrong, I just think his car probably wasn't driving that good.

"It's frustrating. We were able to win the second stage and we were in good position there for a long time. It just kind of unraveled on us, and that's how it goes here sometimes."

Faring best of all playoff contenders not locked into the Round of 8 was Denny Hamlin, who rallied back after going a lap down following a pit road penalty to finish fourth. The rest of the running order was a mixed bag for the playoff contenders, creating a tight battle for the last spot in the next round.

Hamlin (+50), Bell (+22), Chris Buescher (+19), Martin Truex Jr. (+17) and Kyle Larson (+15) enjoy double-digit point advantages entering the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval, while Keselowski holds a two-point advantage over Tyler Reddick (-2) for the last spot in the next round. Bubba Wallace (-9) and Ross Chastain (-10) remain within striking distance of the cut line, while Kyle Busch (-26) finds himself in a deep points hole and a must-win scenario if he wishes to continue his title hunt.

Terrific Herbst

The nature of superspeedway racing and the great equalizer of the draft always creates ample opportunities for drivers to burst out of the pack and emerge as unlikely Talladega heroes. True to form, Sunday's race at Talladega saw a young driver still trying to establish himself put the stars of the Cup Series on upset alert and play a major role in the race for the win.

Making just his fourth career Cup Series start, NASCAR Xfinity Series regular Riley Herbst -- driving a third car for Front Row Motorsports in a collaboration with Stewart-Haas Racing -- capitalized on a very fast car to lead five times for a total of 10 laps. And in the final laps, Herbst would give critical pushes to both Harvick and Blaney as they raced for the win while Herbst tried to find his moment to shock the stars of Cup the way previous Talladega upset winners like Richard Brickhouse, Ron Bouchard, Bobby Hillin Jr. and others have before.

It didn't quite work out -- Herbst finished ninth after getting turned coming to the checkered flag -- but he did earn major kudos from Blaney for the role he played in the race to the finish.

"I have to give a big thanks to Riley Herbst. He did a really good job there the last couple restarts," Blaney said. "He hasn't had a lot of Cup starts, but he did a great job of pushing me."

Part of what made Herbst's performance personally rewarding for him was the fact that he has had a disappointing season in the Xfinity Series, narrowly missing the playoffs after a series of poor finishes over the end of the summer. While he felt he left a chance to win on the table on the final lap, Herbst was still left feeling like he had gained a great deal.

"It's always good to let the Cup Series drivers know you're racing and try to earn their respect. The last thing you want to do is come into this garage and make a fool out of yourself," Herbst told reporters in the garage area. "Hopefully we didn't do that and continue to build my name and my respect in this garage, and go back to the (Xfinity) garage and try to go win."

Race results rundown

  • With a fourth-place finish, Corey LaJoie tied both his season-high and career-best finishes, both of which he set at Atlanta in March. This also marks the first time in LaJoie's career that he has had multiple top-five finishes in a season, and his three top-10 finishes in 2023 are a new personal best for him.
  • Denny Hamlin wasn't the only driver who battled back from a pit road speeding penalty. After battling Hamlin for the free pass position for many laps, Austin Cindric was finally able to get back on the lead lap during the final debris caution and drove all the way to fifth at the checkered flag. It marks Cindric's best finish of 2023 and his first top five since Daytona in August 2022.
  • Justin Haley led the way for Kaulig Racing with a sixth-place finish, and he was almost joined in the top 10 by another Kaulig car and Xfinity Series interloper. Chandler Smith, making just his third Cup start in the part-time Kaulig No. 13, earned the best finish of his young Cup career in 11th.
  • Ryan Preece did his very best Ricky Bobby impression, driving his "Talladega Nights"-inspired Wonder Bread Ford to the front of the field and leading eight laps on his way to a top-10 finish. Not far behind him was Magic Man Chase Briscoe, who drove Cal Naughton Jr.'s Old Spice paint scheme to a 13th-place finish to put both paint schemes from the 2006 comedy in the top 15. Shake 'n Bake!
  • With the exception of Joey Logano, who led 48 laps, no driver led more than 15 laps during the course of Sunday's race as the lead changed hands constantly. Herbst, Harvick, Cindric, William Byron, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Alex Bowman were all credited with leading 10 or more laps. Arguably the biggest surprise at the front of the field was Ty Dillon, who drove to the front prior to the first round of pit stops and led two laps.

Next Race

The Round of 12 concludes with yet another unpredictable and potentially chaotic race, the Bank of America Roval 400 at the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval next Sunday at 2 p.m. ET on NBC.

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Harvick cuts up to block Blaney high! Blaney cuts low and picks up a great push from Byron!

Harvick surges through the trioval, THEY'RE SIDE BY SIDE! AT THE LINE, AND RYAN BLANEY WINS IT IN ANOTHER PHOTO FINISH AS THE CRASH PAST THE FINISH LINE!

1 - #12 - Ryan Blaney
2 - #4 - Kevin Harvick
3 - #24 - William Byron
4 - #11 - Denny Hamlin
5 - #7 - Corey LaJoie
6 - #2 - Austin Cindric
7 - #9 - Chase Elliott
8 - #31 - Justin Haley
9 - #41 - Ryan Preece
10 - #36 - Riley Herbst

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Wallace up to lead the top line. Harvick on the inside with Byron pushing. Blaney on the outside with Herbst pushing.

White flag this time!

 
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Blaney pushes Harvick well ahead of the lead pack. Now Harvick covers the bottom and it opens the door for Blaney to challenge him for the lead with two laps to go!

 
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October 1, 2023, 9:19 PM
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Top lane not making any headway to the lead yet. Harvick leads at the line with three laps to go!

 
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Byron jumps out of line to pick up help from Harvick! It's Hendrick cars in front of all three lanes!

Byron pushed to the lead and Byron now jumps down in front of Elliott. He'll race Harvick side-by-side! Four to go!

 
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Bowman gets split by Harvick and Elliott coming to six to go! He gets put in the sucker hole as now the inside line forms up better than the outside and Elliott goes to the lead with Larson and Byron pushing!

Bowman is now the leader of the top line, which is starting to form and coming in hot coming to five to go!

 
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Four Hendrick cars now formed up in the inside line led by Bowman. But they lose some momentum and now Harvick gets back to the front. Bowman surges in the tri-oval and they're side-by-side for the lead with seven to go.

 
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Elliott, Larson and Byron all formed up in the inside line going past their teammate in Bowman. Elliott will lead at the line with eight to go.

 
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Alex Bowman takes the lead back coming to nine to go, and now Chase Elliott's opportunity has come. The defending Fall Talladega winner is now the lead car in the inside line. Bowman down to cover as he tries to work both lanes.

 
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10 laps to go. Kevin Harvick, still looking for a win in his final season, is the leader. He was also the leader late in the race at Daytona before getting passed for the win in Overtime. He has another opportunity, and now it's time for The Closer to try and finish the job.

The top lane has dissipated. Lead pack is two-by-two.

 
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Big push by Kevin Harvick gets the inside line well ahead of the outside line. Harvick's problem is that he can't pull out and pass yet, as Hendrick teammates Elliott and Larson are behind him -- They won't go with Harvick and let him pass Bowman.

Now Harvick jumps up in front of Ryan Blaney and picks him up as a drafting partner. Side-by-side for the lead as Ricky Stenhouse Jr. now emerges as the leader in the top lane.

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