By: Reid Spencer, NASCAR Wire Service
CONCORD, N.C. – Kevin Harvick was between a rock and a hard place with three laps left in Saturday’s Hisense 4K TV 300 at Charlotte Motor Speedway, and Ryan Blaney took full advantage of the veteran driver’s conundrum.
Passing Harvick for the lead after a restart on Lap 198 and 200, Blaney crossed the finish line .244 seconds ahead of the driver of the No. 41 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford.
Blaney had pushed Harvick to the front past eventual third-place finisher Austin Dillon on a restart after the 10th caution, brought out when Michael Annett’s No. 5 JR Motorsports Chevrolet scraped the Turn 3 wall on Lap 176.
But when Blaney powered his No. 12 Team Penske Ford into second-place after the 11th caution, Harvick was faced with a dilemma when the caution flew for the final time for Darrell Wallace Jr.’s spin in Turn 2 on Lap 194. If Harvick chose the inside lane for the final restart, second-place Blaney would have lined up in front of Team Penske teammate Brad Keselowski, setting up the possibility of a ferocious push.
Harvick chose the top lane but couldn’t clear Blaney through the first two corners after the restart with three laps to go. Blaney surged ahead and had the lead by the time he exited Turn 4. End of story.
“We were able to push Kevin (Harvick) to the front and get to second, and that gave us a shot and got by him at the end there on that last restart,” said Blaney, who won at the same track that gave his father, Dave Blaney, his only NASCAR XFINITY Series victory in 2006. Dave Blaney was at CMS on Saturday to celebrate with his son.
“To win at a track where my father did is pretty cool,” Blaney said.
Blaney won for the first time this season, the first time at Charlotte and the fifth time in his career.
Harvick took the defeat philosophically, knowing he was confronted with a pair of difficult choices at the end.
“I knew I was in a pickle then,” Harvick said. “I didn’t really know what to do. If you take the bottom and get the 12 (Blaney) and 22 (Keselowski) hooked up, we might have got beaten worse.
“We just got beat by the 12. He did a great job all day on the restarts.”
In fact, Blaney led 107 laps to Harvick’s 58, but was shuffled back to third during his final pit stop on Lap 160 when he was blocked in his stall on pit road.
“I thought we had a really good pit stop,” Blaney said. “I just kind of got boxed in, didn’t angle out very well. That was on me. But luckily we were able to get back on the front row and give us a shot. It was so hard starting third when you only have a couple of laps to get to the front row.
“That was really tough, and I thought we were going to run out of laps to make it happen.”
The final caution, however, gave Blaney the opportunity he needed.
Christopher Bell finished fourth in his NASCAR XFINITY Series debut, after a remarkable recovery from a spin off Turn 4 on the third lap of the race. Turned sideways by a tap from Ryan Reed’s Roush Fenway Racing Ford, Bell’s No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota slid through the infield grass but avoided major damage to the undercarriage.
Bell spent the next 195 laps working his way back toward the front.
“I’m glad it was 200 laps, because we used every single bit of it,” Bell said. “We didn’t have a lot of luck on the restarts at the beginning of the race, starting on the bottom, but we got the luck (with outside starting positions) when we needed it at the end.”
Denny Hamlin finished fifth, followed by Keselowski, Cole Custer, Brennan Poole, Brendan Gaughan and Tyler Reddick.
Despite his crash and 35th-place result, Sadler retained the series lead by six points over JR Motorsports teammate Justin Allgaier, who started from the pole and finished 12th.