Atlanta Motor Speedway, Hampton, GA — March 21, 2021
Today’s Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway is the 6th race of the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series. To date, there have been five different drivers post wins in the first five races of the season. Will that trend continue today? It’s very likely considering the top drivers who have not visited victory lane yet.
NASCAR used COVID sniffing dogs to check teams, staff, and fans for the virus as they entered the speedway.
Denny Hamlin(11) starts on the pole, he is looking for his 1st win in 2021. Martin Truex Jr.(19), last week’s winner, starts beside his teammate on the front row. Team Penske drivers Joey Logano(22) and Brad Keselowski(2) line up on row two. Both have both run well but have not yet taken a checkered flag.
Chase Elliott(9) was supposed to start 5th, but he will have to drop to the rear of the field after failing pre-race inspection twice.
A total of 325 laps make up the 500.5 miles of today’s race. Stages are 105/105/115 laps around the 1.54-mile oval. Popular Fox football commentator Erin Andrews is the Grand Marshal and will give the command to start engines.
Hamlin, with a push from Logano, drove to the lead. While Kevin Harvick, who seems to always run well at Atlanta, drove from the 7th starting position into 2nd place. Other fast movers early were Kyle Larson(5) and Kyle Busch(18) joining the leaders at the front of the pack.
NASCAR scheduled a competition caution for after Lap 25. Crews will be changing rubber at every opportunity as the old coarse racing surface chews through tires and lap times begin falling off quickly.
Larson leads out of the pits, followed by Hamlin, Harvick, Ryan Blaney(12), and Kyle Busch.
Green flag pit stops started with 42 laps to go, not because they were running low on fuel but because tires were worn out. Larson returned to the lead after everyone stopped and continued to build the interval between himself and Kyle Busch in 2nd.
Only 19 cars remained on the lead lap when Larson crossed under the green and white checkered flag signaling the end of Stage 1.
Stage 1 Results
|7||19||Martin Truex Jr.||4|
*Ford Mustang Drivers
Larson retained the lead off pit road followed by Blaney, Kurt Busch(1), Hamlin, and Truex.
On the restart, cars stacked up at the front of the field. Hamlin ran into the back of Kurt Busch and spun him into the outside wall just past the start/finish line. The damage to his race car put Busch out of the race early.
William Byron(24) led the field back to the green. However, it did not take Larson long to regain the top spot as he has unquestionably the fastest car on the track. As the running order settled in it was Larson, Blaney, AlexBowman(48), Matt DiBenedetto(21), and Byron in the top 5.
Larson had built almost a six-second lead when green-flag stops began with 51 laps to go in Stage 2. The advantage shrunk slightly as Larson retained the lead when stops were complete. Bowman took over the 2nd spot just over five seconds behind the top spot.
At the end of Stage 2, Larson led by over eight-seconds with only 14 cars on the lead lap.
Stage 2 Results
*Ford Mustang Drivers
The Final Stage
Off pit road, Larson barely inched out Blaney. Bowman, Byron, and Kyle Busch followed. Larson stands to become the first repeat winner of 2021 if he can dominate the final Stage in the same manner as the first two.
Just after the start of the Final Stage, Chase Elliott had the engine go away on the #9 car. Ending his day and bringing out the caution flag. Everyone pitted for fresh tires. This time Blaney led the race off pit road with Hamlin in 2nd, DiBenedetto 3rd, and Larson in 4th.
Kyle Busch was nailed with a pit road speeding penalty and must restart at the rear of the field. It only took Larson a couple of laps to move up to the 2nd spot. But, with clean air in front of him, Blaney held the lead.
Larson returned to the top spot with 89 laps to go in the race. Blaney picked up some debris on the front bumper that blocked his air intake causing the engine temp to rise. With Larson disturbing the air, Blaney was able to clean his grill and bring engine temps back to an acceptable range.
Blaney is the only driver who has been able to stay with Larson during the afternoon. He was within one second of the leader when green flag pit stops started with 59 laps to go. Daniel Suarez ruined what had been a top 10 run all day with a pit road speeding penalty. The drive-through return to pit road put Suarez a lap down.
After consistent fast stops, Blaney lost some time on this trip to pit road. He came out after his green-flag stop down just over two-seconds to the leader.
Previously, Kyle Larson has won the first two Stages of a race three times and never completed the Stage sweep with a victory. Without a caution or tire issues, today could be the day that happens. He continues to stretch the advantage, leading by over three-seconds with 35 laps to go.
With 15 laps to go, Blaney had closed the advantage to less than a second. To make matters worse, Larson is running behind Blaney’s teammate, Joey Logano, who is trying to remain on the lead lap and is not going to relinquish track position willingly.
Blaney reached the bumper of Larson’s car with 9 to go and took the lead. Logano pulled to the high side of the track and allowed Blaney to pass, Larson followed him by. After leading 269 of the 325 laps, Larson’s car went away in the closing laps. Allowing Ryan Blaney to come from behind for the victory.
Blaney becomes the 6th winner in 6 races as the trend continues. Next week the series moves on to Bristol for the 1st Cup Series race on dirt in 50 years. Certainly, that will be anyone’s race to win.
|2||Martin Truex Jr.||212||1||In-Win|
|Playoff Cut Line|
|17||Ricky Stenhouse Jr.||138||0||-6|
*Ford Mustang Drivers
Results of the Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 from Atlanta Motor Speedway
|9||19||Martin Truex Jr.||22.924||325|
|12||47||Ricky Stenhouse Jr.||26.653||325|