TALLADEGA, Ala. (AP) — Ryan Blaney held onto the lead after a restart with two laps to go Monday, earning his second straight win at Talladega Superspeedway on a day that began with NASCAR drivers throwing their support behind Bubba Wallace.
Blaney nipped Ricky Stenhouse Jr. at the finish line for his fourth win and first since Talladega in October, albeit this time before a mostly empty venue. It was a race marked by support for Wallace instead of another Big One at Talladega, though there was mayhem behind Blaney on the final lap and he also pushed Erik Jones into the wall near the finish.
“Just trying to block, block the best we could,” said Blaney, one of Wallace’s best friends. “Block the top, block the bottom … just beating and banging to the line. ”
Aric Almirola spun at the end and crossed the line almost backward.
The racing was overshadowed by an extraordinary act of solidarity with NASCAR’s only Black driver. Dozens of drivers pushed Wallace’s car to the front of the field before Monday’s race as FBI agents tried to find out who left a noose in his garage stall over the weekend.
He was emotional after finishing 14th and spending time in the top five, slapping hands with a group of mostly African-American fans.
”I’m proud to stand where I’m at. … This sport is changing,” Wallace said. “The deal that happened (Saturday) I wanted to show whoever it was, you are not going to take away my smile. I am going to keep on going.”
The stock car series was left reeling and angered by the racist act that came less than two weeks after it banned the Confederate flag on its properties at Wallace’s urging. It has vowed to permanently bar the person responsible, but the investigation was in its early stages.
The 26-year-old Wallace was surrounded by all 39 other drivers in the moments before the race and they were joined by their crews in a march down pit road as they pushed his No. 43 to the front of the line. Wallace climbed out of his car and wept.