HAMPTON, Ga. — March 11, 2001 is remembered by NASCAR fans as the day Kevin Harvick edged Jeff Gordon in a photo-finish to win at Atlanta Motor Speedway weeks after the death of Dale Earnhardt in a crash on the final lap of the Daytona 500.
Harvick’s victory also served as an opportunity for the NASCAR industry to heal after Earnhardt’s tragic death. Harvick was piloting the No. 29 Chevrolet for Richard Childress Racing that day, the same car that Earnhardt had driven since 1984 but minus Earnhardt’s traditional No. 3.
However, often forgotten is the fact that were it not for some unfortunate luck, Dave Blaney may have celebrated in victory lane that day.
Blaney, the 1995 World of Outlaws Sprint Car Series champion, was in his second season driving the No. 93 Amoco Dodge fielded by Bill Davis Racing.
On that particular day, Blaney had one of the fastest cars in the field and led 70 laps. However, following a green-flag pit stop, Blaney returned immediately to the pit lane. But a yellow flag waved and he went back on the track without stopping. He should have stopped.
The left-rear wheel came off the car after a drive plate came loose.
Harvick beat Gordon by .006 seconds to win the Cracker Barrell 500.
Fast-forward to March 21, 2021 and the Blaney family finally got one back from Atlanta Motor Speedway when Ryan Blaney ran down Kyle Larson to win the Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500.
Prior to Sunday’s race, the younger Blaney got a text from his father reminding him about that day in 2001.
“He texted me today. He said, ‘This is the 20-year anniversary.’ He was whipping butt in that Amoco car. The damn wheel fell off his car, ruined his day. He lost the race. He was dominating,” Ryan Blaney recalled. “I said, ‘We’ll win one for the 20th anniversary.’ I don’t know how solar cycles line up, every 20 years, I don’t know. Happy we were able to avenge that loss.”
While Sunday marked Ryan Blaney’s fifth NASCAR Cup Series victory, Dave Blaney went winless in 473 Cup Series starts despite numerous close calls.
One was the aforementioned race at Atlanta. Another was in 2003 while he was driving the No. 77 Jasper Engines Ford at Darlington (S.C.) Raceway as Ricky Craven and Kurt Busch beat and banged for the race win.
Dave Blaney got to watch all that happen from third. He was gaining on Craven and Busch each lap, but simply ran out of time.
He added two more third-place finishes during his career, both at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway.
“Dad, he’s taught me everything that I know,” Ryan Blaney said. “He comes to as many races as he can. Just sits in the stands nowadays. Obviously, can’t come in the infield (because of COVID-19).
“He’s always someone I always trusted. Fortunate to have a dad that’s done it all, seen it all. I still go to him for advice about anything. Whether it’s a stern talking to or it’s careful advice, I’ve always enjoyed talking to him, hearing what he’s got to say. Just him being around means a lot.”
When his post-race media obligations were finished, Ryan Blaney said he was going to call his father, who watched him win the Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 from the grandstands, and pass on a simple message.
“I can’t wait to call him and tell him, ‘I told you so, we got one back for you,’” Ryan Blaney said.
Indeed he did.