Even in victory, Ryan Blaney thought about what happened to close friend Bubba Wallace over the weekend. And what happened afterward.

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 Wallace.

TALLADEGA, ALABAMA – JUNE 22: Bubba Wallace, driver of the #43 Victory Junction Chevrolet, drives past the #IStandWithBubba stencil on the field prior to the NASCAR Cup Series GEICO 500 at Talladega Superspeedway on June 22, 2020 in Talladega, Alabama. A noose was found in the garage stall of NASCAR driver Bubba Wallace at Talladega Superspeedway a week after the organization banned the Confederate flag at its facilities. (Photo by Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images)

“I think it’s great that everybody really came together,” Blaney said. “I don’t want it to be remembered as a terrible day or a bad day in NASCAR.

“I want it to be remembered as there was an incident and we all overcame it together and showed that we’re not going to take it anymore.”

It was that kind of bittersweet day and weekend.

Blaney nipped Ricky Stenhouse Jr. at the finish line by .007 seconds 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.

TALLADEGA, ALABAMA – JUNE 22: Ryan Blaney, driver of the #12 Menards/Sylvania Ford, leads Erik Jones, driver of the #20 Sport Clips Toyota, and Aric Almirola, driver of the #10 Smithfield Ford, to win the NASCAR Cup Series GEICO 500 at Talladega Superspeedway on June 22, 2020 in Talladega, Alabama. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

“Just trying to block, block the best we could,” Blaney said. “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.

Ford has now won nine of the last 10 Cup races at Talladega, and all three Team Penske drivers have won this season.

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 spending time in the top five before running short on fuel and finishing 14th, slapping hands with a group of mostly African-American fans.

TALLADEGA, ALABAMA – JUNE 22: Fans cheer for Bubba Wallace, driver of the #43 Victory Junction Chevrolet, after the NASCAR Cup Series GEICO 500 at Talladega Superspeedway on June 22, 2020 in Talladega, Alabama. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

“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.”

Wallace took the lead for a lap at one point, and Stenhouse said he noticed the fan reaction, along with the chants of “Bubba” at the start.

“I looked at the stands and watched all the people jump up and cheer,” he said. “That was pretty cool.”

The stock car series was left reeling and angered by the racist act that came less than two weeks after it banned the Confederate flag on its properties at Wallace’s urging. It has vowed to permanently bar the person responsible, but the investigation was in its early stages.

TALLADEGA, ALABAMA – JUNE 22: NASCAR drivers push the #43 Victory Junction Chevrolet, driven by Bubba Wallace, to the front of the grid as a sign of solidarity with the driver prior to the NASCAR Cup Series GEICO 500 at Talladega Superspeedway on June 22, 2020 in Talladega, Alabama. A noose was found in the garage stall of NASCAR driver Bubba Wallace at Talladega Superspeedway a week after the organization banned the Confederate flag at its facilities. (Photo by Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images)

The 26-year-old Wallace was surrounded by all 39 other drivers in the moments before the race and they were joined by their crews in a march down pit road as they pushed his No. 43 to the front of the line. Wallace climbed out of his car and wept.

It was a stirring move to support Wallace at a track in the heart of the South where Confederate flags have flown for decades and were seen outside the superspeedway all weekend long by fans opposed to NASCAR’s ban.

Standing alongside Wallace for the national anthem was Richard Petty, the 82-year-old Hall of Fame driver known as “The King.” Wallace drives for Petty, who issued a scathing rebuke after the noose was found that called for the “sick person” to be expelled from NASCAR forever — a move NASCAR President Steve Phelps insisted would happen should they be caught.

TALLADEGA, ALABAMA – JUNE 22: Bubba Wallace, driver of the #43 Victory Junction Chevrolet, is embraced by team owner, and NASCAR Hall of Famer Richard Petty prior to the NASCAR Cup Series GEICO 500 at Talladega Superspeedway on June 22, 2020 in Talladega, Alabama. A noose was found in the garage stall of NASCAR driver Bubba Wallace at Talladega Superspeedway a week after the organization banned the Confederate flag at its facilities. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

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.

TALLADEGA, ALABAMA – JUNE 22: Spotters watch the race during the NASCAR Cup Series GEICO 500 at Talladega Superspeedway on June 22, 2020 in Talladega, Alabama. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

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

As for the noose left for Wallace, he said: “I thought it was funny myself.”

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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