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Blaney wins at Talladega

By John Zenor
AP sports writer

TALLADEGA, Ala. — 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 race began with Martin Truex Jr. on the pole, and Tyler Reddick won the first stage, which ended in a weather caution that lasted 58-plus minutes.

The crowd had dwindled significantly from Sunday, when up to 5,000 fans were allowed into Talladega — only the second race with fans since NASCAR returned from the pandemic-forced shutdown. Workers painted “#IStandWithBubbaWallace” on the infield grass before the race and Confederate flags were nowhere to be seen inside the sprawling facility that can hold 80,000-plus and usually sees dozens of RVs lined up across the infield.

In the stands, fan Luke Johnson said he is against the flag ban, saying: “All the NASCAR tracks need to keep on flying them.” 

Another fan, Robert Chaisson, said he didn’t have a strong opinion on the ban. He certainly did on what happened to Wallace.

“That was messed up. I hope they charge that guy with a hate crime,” Chaisson, who lives in Alabaster, Alabama, said. “It doesn’t matter what your opinion is, it’s when you cross that line, then your opinion no longer matters. That’s trying to inflict harm on someone else.”

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