Dave Blaney: Sunday's Feel-Good Story at Talladega Ends in Major Disappointment
Talladega, as we all know, is the biggest wild card track on the Sprint Cup Series.
It is the one track where everyone expects the unexpected. First time winners are common, with surprising and unlikely names always seem to make their way into the final top 10 finishers.
All of those things came true again on Sunday.
The unexpected came in the form of an eight-man drag race to the finish line that produced a finish that tied for the closest in series history, at .002 seconds.
There was also that unexpected and unheralded driver in the final top 10. Posting his second straight restrictor plate top-10 finish was Front Row Motorsports driver David Gilliland. His second top-10 of the year already ties his personal best for top-10s in a season.
But for all of the feel-good stories like Gilliland, there are also the stories of heartbreak.
Drivers like David Ragan and Trevor Bayne were poised to make a big splash, when they both got wrecked in an incident that was not of their doing.
Drivers like Jeff Burton, Regan Smith and Paul Menard all ran up at the front of the field all race long, but were relegated to finishes much worse than they probably should have been.
But then, there is the heartbreak that was Dave Blaney. Blaney is a driver who currently sits ninth on the all time list for career starts without ever scoring a win, with 371.
That streak appeared as if it could have come to an end at Talladega Super Speedway on Sunday afternoon. Blaney, who drives a car for Tommy Baldwin Racing—a team that is severely underfunded, and occasionally has to resort to starting and parking just to continue its operation—put himself in a position to become the 11th first-time winner at Talladega.
Blaney spent much of the first half of the race linked up with Kevin Harvick as his drafting partner. The two of them lingered at the tail end of the lead pack just trying to stay away from any potential trouble that could develop.
Then, about midway through the race, the duo made their way all the way to the front of the field, where Harvick pushed the No. 36 car of Blaney into the lead.
In fact, Blaney would lead the race on six different occasions for a total of 21 laps. Only second place finisher Clint Bowyer led more laps. The 21 laps that he led on Sunday were more than he has led in the past three seasons combined.
Late in the race, with his original drafting partner Harvick now working with his teammate Clint Bowyer, Blaney hooked up with Kurt Busch and the pair took the lead on lap 180, with eight laps to go.
Blaney would lead for the next four laps, until the Roush Racing tandem of Carl Edwards and Greg Biffle got by to take the top spot.
Then it all fell apart for Blaney, through no fault of his own.
After losing the lead, Blaney and Busch fell back to about the 10th position. Even if the race ended there, the underfunded bunch at TBR would have been ecstatic with their finish, but unfortunately it wasn't meant to be.
As Busch attempted to get back to the back bumper of Blaney in an effort to make one more charge back to the front, Busch wound up spinning Blaney out and sending him down to the apron.
Blaney was able to save the car from hitting anything, but by that point, it was too late.
The caution flag never waved for the incident and Blaney fell out of the draft. He ended up crossing the finish line in 27th place, the final car on the lead lap, but he was left to wonder what could have been.
When asked about it afterwards, the disappointment on Blaney's face was obvious. While he praised his team and his engine, he couldn't help but be frustrated to run that well and come so close to an amazing finish, only to end up in disappointment.
So while there is going to be a lot of talk going forward about the incredible eight-man finish, there should also be a lot of talk about Dave Blaney and his team, and what they were able to accomplish.
Blaney was just mere moments away from pulling off one of the biggest upsets in NASCAR history. And while the finish we got was better than anyone could have ever imagined, Dave Blaney winning would have been the fairy tale ending for Sunday's Cinderella driver.
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