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

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It didn’t take long for trouble to strike at Atlanta.

At the start of lap two, Todd Gilliland checked up to let his teammate, pole-sitter Michael McDowell, into the outside line in front of him. That had an accordion effect throughout the line as drivers behind quickly slowed. As the field bunched up, Austin Dillon was pushed sideways. Bubba Wallace also got sideways trying to avoid.

It all happened right in the middle of the pack that was still bunched together from the start, and the field couldn’t avoid on the narrow Atlanta Motor Speedway.

All told, the wreck collected Austin Dillon, Chase Elliott, Noah Gragson, Josh Williams, Christopher Bell, Harrison Burton, Bubba Wallace, Daniel Hemric, John Hunter Nemechek, Erik Jones, Tyler Reddick, Alex Bowman, Justin Haley, Ty Gibbs, Carson Hocevar, and Daniel.

With sixteen cars involved, it’s the largest wreck ever recorded in a Cup Series at Atlanta Motor Speedway. Since a reconfiguration that narrowed the track and added huge banking, the track has raced more like a superspeedway with flat-out pack racing. Racing like a superspeedway means wrecking like a superspeedway, so breaking this record was only a matter of time.

Josh Williams, Noah Gragson, and Zane Smith all ended up out of the race as a result. Christopher Bell was able to meet minimum speed requirements within the Damaged Vehicle Policy time limit, meaning he could take his car to the garage for repairs without being completely out of the race.


“It’s just insane,” Josh Williams summed up the aggressive racing. “I had guys passing me when we were still wrecking. It’s just unfortunate for this No. 16 Alloy Employer Services Chevy team. I just have some bad luck and I need to figure out how to get rid of it.”

As for whether there was anything he could do: “No, not at all. You just wait until someone runs into you.”

Williams will be making a limited number of starts with Kaulig Racing this year. Atlanta was a natural choice for the driver who got the attention of the fans by parking his car on the finish line at the track in protest of NASCAR black-flagging him for damage in an Xfinity Series race.

He already impressed as well at the Clash at the Coliseum in his first Cup attempt this season, barely missing out on making the 23-car field by just one position. Despite his own misfortune, Williams is more focused on the team.

“Yeah, it sucks, but there’s a race next weekend,” he said. “This Kaulig Racing team will get back to work and head to Las Vegas.”

HAMPTON, GEORGIA – FEBRUARY 25:, The #48 Ally Chevrolet, driven by Alex Bowman is towed after an on-track incident during the NASCAR Cup Series Ambetter Health 400 at Atlanta Motor Speedway on February 25, 2024 in Hampton, Georgia. (Photo by Alex Slitz/Getty Images)

Some drivers on that list are feeling the effects of two superspeedway races to start the year on their points position. For Noah Gragson, the damage isn’t so bad after a ninth-place finish at the Daytona 500, but that doesn’t make getting caught up in an early wreck any easier to swallow.

“It’s definitely a bummer,” Gragson said. ” They started stacking up on the top and I thought we were gonna miss the 3 and then got tagged in the right-rear by someone. I just got hit from behind and the car was pretty torn up. We tried to keep it going, but then the rack started falling out of it, so we started losing steering and had to bring it in.”

Gragson and others are already looking forward to Las Vegas Motor Speedway, the first points-paying race this season on a more conventional 1.5-mile track.

“It’s just a bummer, but we’re gonna go to Vegas and rebound,” he said. “There’s a lot of fight in these guys with the Ranger Boat team. This [No.] 10 group is really tight together and I’m grateful to be a part of it.”

“It still sucks not being able to collect points. We were looking to have a good day and to only really get one lap in at speed and then we’re limping around with a wrecked race car for the next 60-80 laps, so that was a bummer.

“This kind of hurts us in the points. I know it’s still early, but the way the qualifying and practice algorithm goes, being higher up in the points is really beneficial, so it’s definitely a bummer but we’re gonna keep our heads down and keep working hard,” Gragson concluded.

Owen Johnson