NASCAR’s Atlanta Cup Race Ends With Three Car Photo Finish

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Atlanta Motor Speedway, Hampton, GA — February 25, 2024

With the Daytona 500 in the rearview mirror, the NASCAR Cup Series shifts into week two of the 2024 season at Atlanta Motor Speedway for the Ambetter Health 400. Called the short-track superspeedway, Atlanta is a mile shorter than Daytona and Talladega. The racing is similar since the speedway was reconfigured two years ago. Pack racing and the potential for a “big one” style wreck are ever-present.

Atlanta Motor Speedway returns to the second race of the NASCAR Cup Series schedule for the first time since 2019. Previously, the historic 1.54-mile track served as the follow-up event to the season-opening DAYTONA 500 from 2015-2019, but this is the first time the track has hosted the second race of the season since being reconfigured to run the superspeedway package on the cars.

Atlanta Motor Speedway has occupied 30 positions on the NASCAR Cup schedule since joining the series in 1960. From 1987 to 2000, Atlanta Motor Speedway held the final championship race on the NASCAR Cup Series schedule.

The Pole Position Has Its Benefits in Atlanta

In total, there have been 119 NASCAR Cup races at Atlanta Motor Speedway since the first race there in 1960, and 16 of the 119 events have been won from the pole or first starting position – tied with the fifth starting spot as the most proficient starting positions on the grid with 16 wins each (13.45%).

Last season, Team Penske’s Joey Logano won the spring NASCAR Cup Series race at Atlanta Motor Speedway from the pole position, becoming the 15th driver to accomplish the feat. Michael McDowell won the pole this year, and Logano was set to line up next to him on the front row. Ford Performance dominated qualifying, posting seven of the top ten fastest laps.

Michael McDowell / Lasco Press Photo

Atlanta Winners

NASCAR Hall of Famer Dale Earnhardt leads the NASCAR Cup Series in wins at Atlanta Motor Speedway with nine victories (1980, 1984, 1986, 1988, 1989, 1990, 1995, 1996, 2000). In total, 48 drivers have won in the NASCAR Cup Series at Atlanta; seven of the 48 are active this weekend.

Active Atlanta Race Winners Wins Seasons
William Byron 2 2023, 2022
Brad Keselowski 2 2019, 2017
Kyle Busch 2 2013, 2008
Joey Logano 1 2023
Chase Elliott 1 2022
Ryan Blaney 1 2021
Denny Hamlin 1 2012

 

Byron Looks to Become Sixth Driver All-Time to Open Season with Back-to-Back Wins

Hendrick Motorsport’s driver William Byron just won the DAYTONA 500, the biggest race of his career, and now has the chance to become the sixth different driver in NASCAR Cup Series history to open the season with back-to-back wins; joining Lee Petty (1954), Marvin Panch (1956), David Pearson (1976), Jeff Gordon (1997) and Matt Kenseth (2009).

Byron is the most recent winner at the reconfigured 1.54-mile track, grabbing last July’s victory. The North Carolina native, Bryon, has made nine series starts at Atlanta, leading 173 laps and posting two wins (2023, 2022), two top fives, and three top 10s.

Several Drivers Hungry for Their First Win, Atlanta Could Deliver

Atlanta Motor Speedway has been the home to the first wins of some famous names in the sport like the recently retired Kevin Harvick, who has joined the FOX Sports TV booth this season. In total, six different drivers have won their first NASCAR Cup Series race at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

First-Time Atlanta Winners Date
Carl Edwards Sunday, March 20, 2005
Kevin Harvick Sunday, March 11, 2001
Jerry Nadeau Monday, November 20, 2000
Jim Hurtubise Sunday, March 27, 1966
Bob Burdick Sunday, March 26, 1961
Bobby Johns Sunday, October 30, 1960

 

This weekend at Atlanta, 15 different drivers are still looking for their first win in the NASCAR Cup Series – (in alphabetical order) – Josh Berry, Harrison Burton, Ty Gibbs, Todd Gilliland, Noah Gragson, Kaz Grala, Daniel Hemric, Carson Hocevar, Corey Lajoie, B.J. McLeod, John Hunter Nemechek, Ryan Preece, Zane Smith and Josh Williams.

Today’s Race

Stages today are 60/100/100. Joey Logano is the defending champion of the race and qualified second. If Logano is going to repeat, he has his work cut out for him. He was penalized for using unapproved equipment during qualifying and will have to start at the rear of the field. In addition, on lap one, he will have to serve a drive-through penalty down pit road and will most certainly go two laps down.

Joey Logano / Lasco Press Photo

The unapproved equipment? The racing glove on his left hand. Drivers put their left hand next to the window net to block air from entering the car. Every millisecond counts, and they are trying to wring as much speed as possible out of the car during qualifying.

The problem with Logano’s glove was they added a piece of material between the thumb and first finger to create a web and catch more air. Ingenious, but NASCAR frowns on unapproved innovations.

Photo Courtesy of Fox Sports

Chase Elliott will also drop to the rear of the lineup after an engine sensor change to his race car.

Chase Elliott / Lasco Press Photo

Stage One

Kyle Busch(8) led the first lap as cars thundered around the track two-by-two, jockeying for position. It did not take long for the big one to occur. The field began to stack up at the front after crossing the start/finish line to begin the second lap. Austin Dillon(3) got turned and collected several top cars in the process.

In addition to Dillon, Chase Elliott(9), Noah Gragson(10), Josh Williams(16), Christopher Bell(20), Harrison Burton(21), Bubba Wallace, Daniel Hemric(31), John Hunter Nemechek(42), Erik Jones(43), Tyler Reddick(45), Alex Bowman(48), Justin Haley(51), Ty Gibbs(54), and Daniel Suarrez(99) were all involved in the mess.

When the crash occurred, Joey Logano was serving his drive-through penalty on pit road. Instead of losing two laps, he rejoined the field in 20th place.

Williams was forced to retire to the garage. Bell followed a few laps later. Dillon, Reddick, Gragson, and Bowman all lost laps with work being performed on their race cars.

Back to green flag racing, Kyle Busch and Kyle Larson(5) traded the lead at the front of the pack as the scramble for positions began to string the cars out in a long line.

The race was back under caution on lap 24. Chris Buescher(17) appeared to have a tire go down in turn four as he spun onto the pit road opening. Somehow, everyone avoided contact with the spinning car.

Close to the mid-point of the Stage, the back of the field opted to pit for tires and fuel. Getting off cycle with the leaders.

Ryan Blaney(12) and Larson led the pack back to green. Position changes started immediately as the field returned to double-wide racing. William Byron(24), Logano, and Corey LaJoie(7) stopped during the caution for fresh tires, and they were actively using the fresh Goodyear rubber to move forward.

Christopher Bell was able to repair his vehicle and return to the race. Albeit 33 laps down.

Lap 52 produced another caution when Kyle Busch tapped the rear of Denny Hamlin(11) driving through the front stretch. Hamlin went around and spun to the end of the pit road. The caution was a big break for Austin Dillion. He got the free pass to regain one of his laps lost during the lap two incident. He sits just one lap of the leaders.

The top 9 cars stayed on the track to gather important Stage points. The rest of the field pitted so they would not have to come in during the Stage break.

McDowell, Blaney, Larson, and Ross Chastain(1) will be out front on the restart with one lap to go in the Stage. McDowell ran away from the pack to garb the Stage win.

Stage One Results

POS CAR DRIVER POINTS
1 34 Michael McDowell* 10
2 12 Ryan Blaney* 9
3 1 Ross Chastain 8
4 5 Kyle Larson 7
5 8 Kyle Busch 6
6 19 Martin Truex Jr. 5
7 47 Ricky Stenhouse Jr. 4
8 23 Bubba Wallace 3
9 24 William Byron 2
10 38 Todd Gilliland* 1

*Ford Mustang Drivers

Stage Two

The lead pack came to pit road, and Todd Gilliland(38) inherited the lead. Joey Logano returned to second, Buescher sat third, Zane Smith ran fourth, and Corey Lajoie was fifth.

With the caution, Dillon got the free pass and returned to the lead lap.

Gilliland continued to lead. The driver on the move was Michael McDowell. Who, after pitting at the end of Stage One, fought his way back to the third spot just 22 laps into the Second Stage.

Logano was the first of the leaders to make a green flag pitstop. His teammate, Ryan Blaney, pitted simultaneously on lap 128. Both took fuel only and went two laps down to the field. Their stops triggered the rest of the teams to begin making stops.

Access to pit road at Atlanta begins in turn three, where the cars are required to enter at 90 mph. They hold that speed to the pits’ entrance, where they must slow down to 45 mph. It can be a difficult assignment to get slowed down enough, and pit road speeding penalties can cost an additional trip through the process.

For Michael McDowell, it turned into a huge problem. McDowell could not control his speed and slid into William Byron, the Daytona 500 Champion. McDowell crumpled the front of his Ford Mustang, but Byron got away with far less damage. The race remained under the green flag.

When stops cycled through, Team Penske ran at the front of the pack. Austin Cindric(2) led, Logano and Blaney followed.

Cindric blocked successfully and won the stage. Logano had to check up, and when he tried to force himself into the top lane, he pulled up in front of Buescher. They collided, and Hamlin got involved as well. Logano had to be towed to his pit stall. Buescher and Hamlin were able to drive back to pit road for attention.

Stage Two Results

POS CAR DRIVER POINTS
1 2 Austin Cindric* 10
2 5 Kyle Larson 9
3 12 Ryan Blaney* 8
4 99 Daniel Suarez 7
5 19 Martin Truex Jr. 6
6 38 Todd Gilliland* 5
7 6 Brad Keselowski* 4
8 21 Harrison Burton* 3
9 14 Chase Briscoe* 2
10 9 Chase Elliott 1

*Ford Mustang Drivers

The Final Stage

Keselowski, Gilliland, Hamlin, and Chase Elliott(9) were the top four coming to the restart. Gilliland has led the most laps of any driver at this point in the race.

Just 14 laps into the final stage, Kaz Grala(15) spun off turn two, and the race was back under caution. Some teams opted to pit and fill the gas tank in the hopes of having enough fuel to finish the race. Or at least making their final pit stop a quick gas and go. Austin Hill used such a strategy to win the Xfinity race Saturday night at Atlanta.

The group included Elliott, Cindric, and Blaney.

On lap 198, Ross Chastain tapped the rear of Elliott’s car, sending the #9 spinning down to the bottom of the track between turns three and four. The caution really gives the fuel mileage strategy a leg up. When the pits opened on lap 201, most of the field came to pit road with crew chiefs telling them they were now in the window to finish on the fuel the car would hold.

Restarting with 55 laps to go, McDowell (the only driver not to stop during the caution) led Martin Truex to the green flag. He was able to pull up in front of Truex for a lap. Then Treux responded along with Cindric and Kyle Busch to make the lead a four-wide battle.

Truex was the loser, dropping back into the pack. Cindric drove to the lead, and Busch followed in second. Atlanta is a three-lane race track in the corners. Truex likely avoided a major incident by backing out of the throttle.

Two laps later, three-wide racing caught up with the Cup drivers. Keselowski, LaJoie, and Larson banged in turn four. LaJoie and Larson were able to drive out of the incident. Keselowski hit the wall and spun down to the entrance of pit road.

Pit stops will reshuffle the running order as the laps wind down to 35 to go on the restart.

The Finish

When the race resumed, Hamlin, Cindric, Busch, and Chase Briscoe(14) were the top four. To this point, there have been 42 lead changes. Any of the 25 cars on the lead lap have a shot at winning this race.

Blaney and Busch traded the lead. Big runs come from the back of the pack, but the driver’s challenge is holding the position when they reach the front.

Cindric found Blaney’s bumper, and they pulled away slightly. The ninth caution of the day flew on lap 239 when Briscoe went three wide for third and crashed into Denny Hamlin in turns three and four. Taking both cars out of contention for the race win.

NASCAR stopped the pack on the backstretch with 19 laps to go and put out the red flag to clean up the mess.

The sun went down off turns one and two as the lights illuminated the track. The fans eagerly awaited the race’s resumption, almost certain there will be more carnage in the closing laps.

There are only seven cars on the track that do not have some form of damage to their machines.

Cindric pushed Blaney to the lead on the restart. Daniel Suarez(99) and Busch tried to respond from the outside lane.

But with 11 laps to go, another check-up scenario caused the 10th caution as Josh Berry(4) spun, catching Elliott and sending Carson Hocevar(77) airborne.

Drivers at the front lined up at the choose cone. Suarez went low, Blaney high, Busch behind the #99 car, and Treux lined up on Blaney’s bumper. The race will go green with five laps to go.

Blaney got out front with a push from Truex. He held the top spot into the final corner. Blaney went low, Busch moved to the center, and Suarez went high. The three raced to a photo finish, with Suarez winning by the smallest of margins, 0.003 of a second.

NASCAR Cup Series Standings

RANK DRIVER POINTS WINS STATUS
1 William Byron 76 1 In Win
2 Daniel Suarez 64 1 In Win
3 Kyle Busch 77 0 +30
4 Austin Cindric* 76 0 +29
5 Bubba Wallace 74 0 -27
6 Ryan Blaney* 69 0 +22
7 Chase Elliott 65 0 +18
8 Ross Chastain 62 0 +15
9 Alex Bowman 60 0 +13
10 Martin Truex Jr. 60 0 +13
11 Kyle Larson 58 0 +11
12 Corey LaJoie 57 0 +10
13 John Hunter Nemechek 53 0 +6
14 Ty Gibbs 50 0 +3
15 Chris Buescher* 49 0 +2
16 Erik Jones 47 0 +0
*** NASCAR Cup Series Playoff Cut Line ***
17 Christopher Bell 47 0 0
18 Ricky Stenhouse Jr. 44 0 -3
19 Denny Hamlin 44 0 -3
20 Michael McDowell* 40 0 -7
21 Daniel Hemric 40 0 -7
22 Chase Briscoe* 37 0 -10
23 Harrison Burton* 36 0 -11
24 Ryan Preece* 35 0 -12
25 Zane Smith 31 0 -16
26 Tyler Reddick 31 0 -16

*Ford Mustang Drivers

Results of the Ambetter Health 400 at Atlanta Motor Speedway

POS CAR DRIVER BEHIND LAPS
1 99 Daniel Suarez 260
2 12 Ryan Blaney 0.003 260
3 8 Kyle Busch 0.007 260
4 2 Austin Cindric 0.077 260
5 23 Bubba Wallace 0.112 260
6 47 Ricky Stenhouse Jr. 0.135 260
7 1 Ross Chastain 0.170 260
8 34 Michael McDowell 0.192 260
9 17 Chris Buescher 0.193 260
10 54 Ty Gibbs 0.243 260
11 21 Harrison Burton 0.420 260
12 19 Martin Truex Jr. 0.440 260
13 7 Corey LaJoie 0.457 260
14 15 Kaz Grala 0.567 260
15 9 Chase Elliott 0.642 260
16 41 Ryan Preece 0.648 260
17 24 William Byron 0.757 260
18 31 Daniel Hemric 0.769 260
19 77 Carson Hocevar 0.897 260
20 51 Justin Haley 1.043 260
21 42 John Hunter Nemechek 1.215 260
22 3 Austin Dillon 2.927 260
23 11 Denny Hamlin -1 259
24 78 BJ McLeod -3 257
25 43 Erik Jones -4 256
26 38 Todd Gilliland -4 256
27 48 Alex Bowman -5 255
28 22 Joey Logano -8 252
29 4 Josh Berry -10 250
30 45 Tyler Reddick -17 243
31 14 Chase Briscoe -21 239
32 5 Kyle Larson -38 222
33 6 Brad Keselowski -42 218
34 20 Christopher Bell -112 148
35 71 Zane Smith -185 75
36 10 Noah Gragson -194 66
37 16 Josh Williams -258 2