Ford’s Ryan Blaney Passes Late and Steals Win from Kyle Larson at Atlanta

0
546
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.

A canine sniffs attendees and staff screening for COVID-19 prior to the NASCAR Cup Series Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway / NASCAR Photo

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.

Stage 1

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

Position Car Driver Points
1 5 Kyle Larson 10
2 18 Kyle Busch 9
3 12 Ryan Blaney* 8
4 1 Kurt Busch 7
5 11 Denny Hamlin 6
6 48 Alex Bowman 5
7 19 Martin Truex Jr. 4
8 9 Chase Elliott 3
9 17 Chris Buescher* 2
10 24 William Byron 1

*Ford Mustang Drivers

Stage 2

Larson retained the lead off pit road followed by Blaney, Kurt Busch(1), Hamlin, and Truex.

Larson leads at Atlanta / NASCAR Photo

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.

Kurt Busch hit the wall at Atlanta / NASCAR Photo

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

Position Car Driver Points
1 5 Kyle Larson 10
2 12 Ryan Blaney* 9
3 48 Alex Bowman 8
4 18 Kyle Busch 7
5 24 William Byron 6
6 21 Matt DiBenedetto* 5
7 3 Austin Dillon 4
8 17 Chris Buescher* 3
9 11 Denny Hamlin 2
10 99 Daniel Suarez 1

*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.

The Finish

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.

Playoff Standings

Rank Driver Points Wins Status
1 Kyle Larson 234 1 In-Win
2 Martin Truex Jr. 212 1 In-Win
3 Ryan Blaney* 191 1 In-Win
4 William Byron 188 1 In-Win
5 Christopher Bell 183 1 In-Win
6 Michael McDowell* 158 1 In-Win
7 Denny Hamlin 277 0 +139
8 Joey Logano* 214 0 +76
9 Brad Keselowski* 206 0 +68
10 Kevin Harvick* 203 0 +65
11 Chase Elliott 183 0 +45
12 Austin Dillon 170 0 +32
13 Kyle Busch 163 0 +25
14 Alex Bowman 157 0 +19
15 Kurt Busch 152 0 +14
16 Chris Buescher* 144 0 +6
Playoff Cut Line
17 Ricky Stenhouse Jr. 138 0 -6
18 Ryan Preece 135 0 -9
19 Bubba Wallace 118 0 -26
20 Ryan Newman* 108 0 -36
21 Ross Chastain 108 0 -36
22 Cole Custer* 105 0 -39
23 Daniel Suarez 95 0 -49
24 Matt DiBenedetto* 93 0 -51
25 Erik Jones 91 0 -53
26 Aric Almirola* 87 0 -57
27 Chase Briscoe* 87 0 -57
28 Tyler Reddick 80 0 -64
29 Corey LaJoie 58 0 -86
30 Anthony Alfredo* 57 0 -87

*Ford Mustang Drivers

Results of the Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 from Atlanta Motor Speedway

Position Car Driver Behind Laps
1 12 Ryan Blaney 325
2 5 Kyle Larson 2.083 325
3 48 Alex Bowman 10.291 325
4 11 Denny Hamlin 11.549 325
5 18 Kyle Busch 14.356 325
6 3 Austin Dillon 17.201 325
7 17 Chris Buescher 17.632 325
8 24 William Byron 22.704 325
9 19 Martin Truex Jr. 22.924 325
10 4 Kevin Harvick 23.133 325
11 21 Matt DiBenedetto 26.193 325
12 47 Ricky Stenhouse Jr. 26.653 325
13 6 Ryan Newman 31.413 325
14 42 Ross Chastain 33.149 325
15 22 Joey Logano -1 324
16 23 Bubba Wallace -1 324
17 99 Daniel Suarez -1 324
18 41 Cole Custer -1 324
19 34 Michael McDowell -1 324
20 10 Aric Almirola -1 324
21 20 Christopher Bell -2 323
22 33 Austin Cindric -2 323
23 14 Chase Briscoe -2 323
24 43 Erik Jones -2 323
25 37 Ryan Preece -2 323
26 8 Tyler Reddick -2 323
27 38 Anthony Alfredo -3 322
28 2 Brad Keselowski -4 321
29 7 Corey LaJoie -6 319
30 77 Justin Haley -6 319
31 51 Cody Ware -9 316
32 15 James Davison -9 316
33 0 Quin Houff -11 314
34 78 BJ McLeod -12 313
35 53 Joey Gase -17 308
36 66 Timmy Hill -20 305
37 52 Josh Bilicki -40 285
38 9 Chase Elliott -105 220
39 1 Kurt Busch -212 113