Leading laps has not been a problem for Ryan Blaney this season, but winning races has. That changed on Monday, June 22, when he led a lot of laps, but most important, one of those laps led was the last one.
Blaney edged Ricky Stenhouse Jr. in overtime to win the rain-postponed Geico 500 NASCAR Cup Series race at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway.
However, what occurred before the start of the race was arguably more significant than what happened at the finish.
All drivers and crew members helped push Bubba Wallace in the No. 43 Richard Petty Motorsport Chevrolet up pit road and into the symbolic front of the starting grid.
The scene represented a show of solidarity with Wallace -- the Cup Series' lone black driver -- after a noose was found hanging in his garage stall on Sunday evening.
"We want to stand with our friend," seven-time Cup champion Jimmie Johnson said of the demonstration. "We want to stand with Bubba."
Johnson said it started with drivers and then crew members found out and they, too, wanted to participate. "Pretty amazing."
NASCAR legend Richard Petty, the owner of Wallace's team, stood next to Wallace during the national anthem.
"The pre-race deal was probably one of the hardest things (emotionally) I've ever had to witness in my life," Wallace said after the race on the FOX broadcast while fighting back tears. "From all of the (support) from drivers, crew members, the bad-ass fan base ... it's truly incredible and I'm proud to be a part of this sport. I have a long way to go, but we'll keep on trucking. Another top-15 finish for us. We'll take it."
Before the race, Wallace was overcome with emotions, and he leaned his head on the top of his car as team owner Richard Petty came over to pat him on the arm and say a few words.
Wallace tweeted a selfie of himself in front of the car just before the start of the race. He wrote "Together."
Also in evidence pre-race was a newly painted sign on the infield grass on the front stretch that read: #IstandWithBubba
Veteran NASCAR star Jimmie Johnson was one of the drivers highly supportive of Wallace as well as upset by the noose incident.
"Everybody knows this is a big family in the garage area," Johnson told FOX just prior to the start of the race. "The news really has disturbed us all. We want justice in a sense -- we want to understand who and why and all of those things -- but until those answers are answered, we want to stand with our friend. We want to stand with Bubba."
FOX analyst Jeff Gordon, a NASCAR Hall of Famer, pulled no punches in describing how upset he was by the incident.
"I'm just furious," Gordon said on the broadcast. "I'm saddened by what Bubba Wallace is having to endure and the pain this is causing him and so many others.
"But I do know this: We saw this (show of support) and that's one of the most powerful emotional moments that I've ever had leading into a race. That this garage area is going to stand together and be strong and stronger than ever as that message continues to be sent."
Wallace ran near the front of the field for a good chunk of the event and with 28 laps to go, took the lead. He finished 14th.
Blaney, a Team Penske driver, earned his first victory of the season but his second straight at Talladega as he won the fall race there last year. It was the fourth triumph of his Cup career.
The win came by inches over JTG Daugherty Racing's Stenhouse.
Third was Aric Almirola of Stewart Haas Racing.
In fourth and fifth, respectively, were Denny Hamlin and Erik Jones of Joe Gibbs Racing.
Behind and around those guys, a large portion of the field wrecked at the end.
NASCAR OK'd Talladega to permit 5,000 fans to attend the event and watch from the grandstands.
Rain, lightning and impending darkness forced NASCAR to push the race back from Sunday to Monday. The 2.66-mile Talladega Superspeedway does not have lights for night racing.
The race began on schedule Monday afternoon. However, on Lap 57 of the scheduled 188-lap event, rain again began to fall, and the race was stopped for about an hour.
Monday's race was the ninth in NASCAR's top-level Cup Series since the coronavirus pandemic put the series in hiatus from mid-March to mid-May.