Ay dios mío! Daniel Suarez wins in photo finish at Atlanta

HAMPTON, GEORGIA - FEBRUARY 25: Daniel Suarez, driver of the #99 Freeway Insurance Chevrolet, crosses the finish line ahead of Kyle Busch, driver of the #8 Cheddar's Scratch Kitchen Chevrolet, and Ryan Blaney, driver of the #12 BodyArmor Zero Sugar Ford, to win the NASCAR Cup Series Ambetter Health 400 at Atlanta Motor Speedway on February 25, 2024 in Hampton, Georgia. (Photo by Alex Slitz/Getty Images)


In a race at Atlanta Motor Speedway that will be talked about for years, Daniel Suarez survived and triumphed in a three wide photo finish to score his second career victory Sunday.

In a race that set a new record for lead changes and saw only five cars that didn’t suffer some sort of damage along the way it was the Trackhouse Racing driver who emerged victorious.

“It was so damn close, man,” Suarez said. “It was so damn close. It was good racing. Ryan Blaney there, Kyle Busch, Austin Cindric also was doing a great job giving pushes. In the back straightaway he didn’t push me because he knew I was going to fuck his teammate, but man, what a job.”

Busch, who was part of the final three wide battle, felt there wasn’t much he could have done. He finished third.

“Yeah, typically whoever is behind getting into 3 prevails at the start-finish line with the side draft and everything,” Busch said. “So, I was — I think I was second to the 12 (Ryan Blaney) right there, and the 99 (Suarez) was the furthest back, and he made the ground back up with the side draft and stuff.

“I don’t think you could stop. That certainly wouldn’t have put us in the right spot either I don’t think.”

Ryan Blaney was the third car in the three wide finish, he was scored in second.

“What a cool finish,” Blaney said. “That’s a lot of fun. That’s always a good time when we can do that, race clean, three-wide finish to the end.

“Happy for Daniel. That was cool to see. Fun racing with Kyle. I can’t complain; I’ve won them by very, very little, too, so I can’t complain too much when I lose them by that much.”

The chaos started when the first caution of the day flew on lap 2 when front row starter Todd Gilliland checked up at the front of the field coming into Turn 1 sweeping up a total of 15 cars. When the dust settled, Josh Williams was done for the day and many cars including Christopher Bell, Noah Gragson and Chase Elliott sustained damage. Gragson was forced to retire on lap 66; Bell was forced to the garage and lost 46 laps. He fell out at lap 205 and finished 34th.

VIDEO: Records broken early as Atlanta’s biggest-ever wreck shakes up the field

Polesitter Michael McDowell would win Stage 1 which was decided by a 1 lap dash after Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch got together coming out of Turn 4 and Hamlin was sent spinning across the frontstretch grass.

Towards the end of Stage 2 it was a Team Penske parade as Austin Cindric was leading Joey Logano and Ryan Blaney. Both Logano and Blaney also led laps during the Stage.

Logano had been penalized prior to the race for using an unapproved glove during qualifying on Friday. Prior to the start he was not only sent to the rear of the field from his second place starting spot but had to do a pass through on the first lap. That turned out to be a stroke of luck as the multicar crash erupted coming into Turn 1 on the same lap.

Logano charged through the field and took the lead for the first time on lap 99 but saw it all come to an end at the end of Stage 2 on lap 159.

Stage 2 was caution free until that point, and Cindric led coming to the green checkered flag to end the stage. Logano in fourth moved up to block a run by Chris Buescher coming out of Turn 2. Logano got into the front of Buscher’s Ford sending both into the outside wall and sweeping up Denny Hamlin behind them. Logano would continue but fell 8 laps down and finished 28th, while Cindric held on to win the stage under caution. Hamlin and Buescher were also able to continue.

Shortly after the start of the final stage, Kaz Grala running just inside the top 10, got loose and spun on lap 176. While the leaders stayed out, several deeper in the field led by Ryan Blaney and including Austin Cindric, Kyle Busch and Chase Elliott pitted for fuel only.

Larson, who had overcome a long pit stop for a lug nut issue earlier, was leading when on lap 192 Elliott was sent spinning after a bump from behind from Ross Chastain. Both were able to continue but the races seventh caution flag flew.

McDowell was the leader after his crew decided to keep him out. He led the field to green on lap 205, 55 to go with Truex, who had pitted, in second. On lap 210 Cindric retook the lead with a diving move to the bottom amidst a four wide battle for the top spot.

On lap 219 Brad Keselowski was running third when his Ford got loose coming into Turn 4. He got sideways sweeping up Larson and LaJoie. Keselowski and Larson were both done for the day.

Green came out with 35 laps to go with Hamlin leading and Busch pursuing. Busch and Blaney ran side by side leading two lines behind them. Blaney took a clear lead from Hamlin on lap 235 with Cindric on his tail in second and Busch holding serve in third.

Fighting inside the top five, Chase Briscoe spun on lap 240 after making contact with Hamlin amidst a 4-wide battle. Hamlin’s Toyota sustained too much damage and his day was done as was Briscoe. With heavy fluid laid down, NASCAR was forced to throw the red flag for just over 11 minutes.

The green waved with 15 to go. Blaney took the lead and Suarez had second on the high line. Just as the green came out, Gilliland saw his hopes for a win end when he had to pit for a flat tire.

With 11 laps to go, Cindric running fourth, got loose causing Bubba Wallace just behind to check up coming out of Turn 2. The move caused Josh Berry to spin up and into the outside wall then down into Elliott. Carson Hocevar was also swept up; Berry was done for the day.

Suarez had the lead at the time of caution and led the field to the green with 5 laps to go. Blaney, however, quickly retook the lead as the field came to Turn 3.

But on the final lap a three wide fight for the win broke out and coming out of Turn 4 with Suarez winning in a photo finish.

Cindric and Bubba Wallace completed the top five.

“Yeah, shout out to Daniel (Suarez),” Wallace said. “Know he needed that. He’s been in that situation before, so nice to see him rise to the occasion. What a day. I’m so glad we’re done with superspeedway racing for a while. The mental toll it takes on you, to just making sure you make the right move for 260 laps, including the race last week too, is a lot.”

Gilliland was the class of the field most of the day leading the most laps 58. Combined with the 27 laps led by McDowell, Sunday’s race saw the most laps led for the Front Row Motorsports team in a race. Thanks to his late race tire puncture Gilliand finished 26th.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. was sixth, Chastain seventh, with McDowell, Buescher and Gibbs rounding out the top 10.

Sunday’s win was the seventh for Trackhouse Racing.

“We have done a lot of work on this race team to make it better and to keep moving forward,” Suarez said. “This is just the beginning of something amazing that we are going to go through together.”

The NASCAR Cup series third race of the season comes at Las Vegas Motor Speedway next Sunday. This year’s Daytona 500 winner, William Byron, who finished 17th at Atlanta, is the defending winner.


Greg Engle