All the questions surrounding the repaved and reconfigured Atlanta Motor Speedway were answered in dramatic fashion Sunday.
William Byron won a race that featured a record number of lead changes, and leaders, a record number of cautions, and wasn’t decided until the final lap, which featured a pack of cars crashing across the finish line.
Since last year the 1.5-mile track was re-paved, banking was added in the turns, and the lanes were narrowed. The proposed changes led to complaints from the drivers, and speculation that the racing would be less then stellar.
What NASCAR ended up with was on full display Sunday: an intermediate track that races like the superspeedways of Daytona and Talladega.
In all the race featured an Atlanta record 46 lead changes among 20 drivers with much of the racing in packs of two lines of cars with occasional 3 wide battles. There also was an Atlanta record 11 cautions for 65 laps the final one coming on lap 309 when Aric Almirola who was running third was punted by Erik Jones and spun across the infield at the frontstretch.
That set up a final 13 lap dash to the finish which Byron, who was part of a group that had stayed out during a lap 254 caution and had 40 lap older tires than most, held his lead from the green on lap 262 until the checkered flag winning by .145 of a second.
“It was so different,” Byron said. “You know honestly the last few laps there, just trying to manage the gap to Bubba (Wallace) and trying to not get too far out front. My spotter Brandon (Lines), it’s his first win so congrats to him and just thanks to this whole team. They’ve done a great job this year. There’s a lot of changes with the Next Gen car.”
Across the line another crash erupted involving Ryan Blaney, Bubba Wallace who was second with 10 to go, Chase Briscoe and several others.
Christopher Bell was originally scored second, however NASCAR ruled he had gone below the line on the final lap, a rule instituted for Atlanta mirroring a rule at Daytona and Talladega. As a result, he was moved to the end of the longest line, 23rd, and Ross Chastain, whose Chevy had been damaged in an earlier crash, was scored in second. It was his third top-10 finish of this season.
“Yeah, what a day,” Chastain said. “That’s a fight in Trackhouse. This Gen 7 car to take a lick like that, blow a tire out of nowhere and leading, just cruising, blow a right rear, slam the wall. Thought our day was over. Our guys went underneath the car, got the toe closer, and we got the balance back where I could drive it.”
Kurt Busch, who was also swept up in an earlier crash was third, with Daniel Suarez and Corey LaJoie rounding out the top five.
“We were on a different planet today with the draft and the way the cars raced,” Busch said. “Wow. I was catching air off of turn two. I had to lift to not hit the rev chip. I just had a little too much damage to not be on offense, and then we were just trying to ride around and pick our poison so to speak.”
In addition to Kurt Busch and Chastain, some of the drivers involved in crashes included Noah Gragson (DNF), Kyle Busch (DNF), Austin and Ty Dillon (DNF), Tyler Reddick, Kyle Larson, Denny Hamlin (all three DNF), and Kevin Harvick. In all, 28 of the 37 cars that started the race were involved in collisions.
The win was the third of Byron’s career and his second top-10 finish. He is also the third Hendrick Motorsports driver to win in the first five races this season following Larson and Alex Bowman, the last time a team has amassed a record of winning three of the first five races in NASCAR was in 1956.
Chase Elliott was sixth, Chris Buescher seventh, Martin Truex Jr. eighth, with Joey Logano and Bowman rounding out the top 10.
Last week’s winner and this week’s polesitter Briscoe was fighting for the lead in the final laps but hit the wall with just a few laps to go and was caught up in the final crash and finished 16th. Wallace who was also battling for the lead and was out front for two of the final 12 laps was also hit the wall late and was in the final crash finishing 14th.
As for the new Atlanta Motor Speedway, most drivers seemed to enjoy the challenge, including the first driver to win.
“It was kind of an intermediate style with a little bit of superspeedway to it, so it was lot of fun,” Byron said. “Thanks to everyone at Hendrick Motorsports. Super exciting.”
NASCAR heads to the Circuit of the Americas the 3.41-mile road course near Austin, Texas where the Cup series will race next Sunday. Chase Elliott is the defending winner.
NASCAR Cup Series Race Results Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500
Atlanta Motor Speedway
Sunday, March 20, 2022
- (12) William Byron, Chevrolet, 325.
- (7) Ross Chastain, Chevrolet, 325.
- (9) Kurt Busch, Toyota, 325.
- (13) Daniel Suarez, Chevrolet, 325.
- (33) Corey LaJoie, Chevrolet, 325.
- (6) Chase Elliott, Chevrolet, 325.
- (14) Chris Buescher, Ford, 325.
- (26) Martin Truex Jr., Toyota, 325.
- (3) Joey Logano, Ford, 325.
- (11) Alex Bowman, Chevrolet, 325.
- (22) Justin Haley, Chevrolet, 325.
- (24) Brad Keselowski, Ford, 325.
- (19) Bubba Wallace, Toyota, 325.
- (23) Erik Jones, Chevrolet, 325.
- (1) Chase Briscoe, Ford, 325.
- (36) Josh Bilicki(i), Chevrolet, 325.
- (2) Ryan Blaney, Ford, 325.
- (35) David Ragan, Ford, 325.
- (34) BJ McLeod, Ford, 325.
- (37) Greg Biffle, Chevrolet, 325.
- (8) Kevin Harvick, Ford, 325.
- (10) Aric Almirola, Ford, 325.
- (27) Christopher Bell, Toyota, 325.
- (29) Michael McDowell, Ford, 321.
- (31) Harrison Burton #, Ford, 321.
- (32) Cody Ware, Ford, Accident, 300.
- (25) Todd Gilliland #, Ford, DVP, 297.
- (5) Tyler Reddick, Chevrolet, Accident, 245.
- (15) Denny Hamlin, Toyota, Accident, 212.
- (21) Kyle Larson, Chevrolet, Accident, 212.
- (28) Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Chevrolet, Accident, 200.
- (16) Austin Cindric #, Ford, Accident, 200.
- (4) Kyle Busch, Toyota, Accident, 171.
- (20) Cole Custer, Ford, Accident, 150.
- (17) Austin Dillon, Chevrolet, Accident, 101.
- (18) Ty Dillon, Chevrolet, Accident, 101.
- (30) Noah Gragson(i), Chevrolet, Accident, 23.
Average Speed of Race Winner: 126.584 mph.
Time of Race: 3 Hrs, 57 Mins, 14 Secs. Margin of Victory: .145 Seconds.
Caution Flags: 11 for 65 laps.
Lead Changes: 46 among 20 drivers
Lap Leaders: C. Briscoe 0;R. Blaney 1;C. Briscoe 2-6;K. Busch 7-12;C. Elliott 13-15;K. Busch 16-30;R. Chastain 31-34;W. Byron 35-40;R. Chastain 41-42;W. Byron 43-45;R. Chastain 46;R. Blaney 47-48;J. Logano 49-50;D. Hamlin 51;J. Logano 52-54;R. Chastain 55-64;J. Logano 65-69;R. Chastain 70-94;W. Byron 95-105;C. Bell 106-121;K. Harvick 122-124;M. Truex Jr. 125;J. Logano 126-127;K. Busch 128-129;R. Stenhouse Jr. 130;K. Busch 131-132;R. Stenhouse Jr. 133-137;J. Haley 138;T. Reddick 139-143;W. Byron 144-148;B. McLeod 149-150;W. Byron 151-153;K. Harvick 154-161;W. Byron 162-183;R. Blaney 184;R. Stenhouse Jr. 185-200;R. Blaney 201-207;K. Larson 208;R. Blaney 209-212;D. Suarez 213-224;M. Truex Jr. 225-228;C. Elliott 229-254;D. Suarez 255;A. Almirola 256-261;W. Byron 262-312;B. Wallace 313-315;W. Byron 316-325.
Leaders Summary (Driver, Times Lead, Laps Led): William Byron 8 times for 111 laps; Ross Chastain 5 times for 42 laps; Chase Elliott 2 times for 29 laps; Ricky Stenhouse Jr. 3 times for 22 laps; Kyle Busch 2 times for 21 laps; Christopher Bell 1 time for 16 laps; Ryan Blaney 5 times for 15 laps; Daniel Suarez 2 times for 13 laps; Joey Logano 4 times for 12 laps; Kevin Harvick 2 times for 11 laps; Aric Almirola 1 time for 6 laps; Chase Briscoe 1 time for 5 laps; Martin Truex Jr. 2 times for 5 laps; Tyler Reddick 1 time for 5 laps; Kurt Busch 2 times for 4 laps; Bubba Wallace 1 time for 3 laps; BJ McLeod 1 time for 2 laps; Kyle Larson 1 time for 1 lap; Justin Haley 1 time for 1 lap; Denny Hamlin 1 time for 1 lap.
Stage #1 Top Ten: 24,11,99,47,43,45,48,8,5,20
Stage #2 Top Ten: 12,9,14,10,6,99,19,23,24,1
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