Ryan Blaney Wins First ROVAL Race – Jimmie Johnson Eliminated from Playoffs
by Kent Whitaker Scores & Statson
Round one of the Monster Energy Cup Series Playoffs has finished with the first ever race weekend run at the new ROVAL course constructed in the infield at Charlotte Motor Speedway. When the dust settled, it was Ryan Blaney who captured the checkered flag thus ensuring his advancement into Round Two.
Entering the race weekend Blaney was only a few points above the cut line and needed a good run to not be one of the four drivers cut from Championship eligibility. The driver of the No. 12 Ford for Team Penske won the second stage of the Bank of America 400 before capturing the checkered flag after race leaders Martin Truex Jr and Jimmie Johnson crashed.
Blaney, who was trailing the two fellow Playoff contenders, avoided the mayhem and took over the top spot seconds before the checkered flag waved.
“Tough weekend, just kind of avoided some stuff,” Blaney said after he climbed from his car to celebrate his win. “You hate to see two guys get into it there and take out two of the best cars all day. But that’s racing sometimes. We were just at the right spot at the right time. It’s cool to be in Victory Lane and move on to the next round.”
Johnson’s Best Ride of Year Goes South
Jimmie Johnson has won seven NASCAR Cup Series Championships and entered the ROVAL race weekend below the cutline. The driver of the No. 48 Chevrolet was having his best ride of the year with a chance to win or finish second which would have been enough for him to move onto round two.
When Truex and Johnson entered the final chicane, Johnson dove inside which caused the two leaders to touch and spin in different directions. Blaney and a host of cars split the two cars, to get checkered. But, the wreck kept Johnson stalled long enough that too many cars passed him before he could cross the finish line which was only a few yards away.
"I really felt like I could put some pressure on them and take a shot at it," Johnson said of trying to pass Truex. "I just locked up the rears and couldn’t control my car and spun. I didn’t think that I initially got into him, but clearly, I did and spun him around. Took myself out of a shot at the championship and obviously affected their day which I feel bad about."
Truex, driver of the No. 78 Toyota for Furniture Row Racing was able to survive and move onto the next round due to the number of Playoff points he had going into Sunday’s race. After the spin with Johnson, he finished in the 14th position.
“I gave him (Johnson) the inside lane, and he had the run through (NASCAR Turn 4), and I was real tight down there,” Truex said. “I let him have the inside going down inside coming out of 4 there to the chicane. He just over-drove it and was never going to make it and he used me as brakes and turned us both around. It sucks. We could have raced side-by-side off the last corner for a win, and that would have been cool. The fans would have been digging it, but instead, we finished 14th and he’s locked out of the playoffs. I guess that’s what he gets.”
Four drivers have been cut from the Playoff eligible list after the three races that made up Round One. Jimmie Johnson, Austin Dillon, Denny Hamlin, and Alex Bowman fell below the cut line. There are now twelve eligible drivers left heading into Round Two which starts next weekend in Dover.