Kyle Larson was poised to win his second NASCAR Cup Series race of the season when he won two stages and led 269 laps in Sunday’s Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway. However, he did not lead the final eight as Ryan Blaney chased down the dominant #5 car and took the spot late to win.
Denny Hamlin started on the pole ahead of Joe Gibbs Racing team-mate and Phoenix winner Martin Truex Jr. Chase Elliott and Timmy Hill failed pre-race inspection multiple times (twice for Elliott, thrice for Hill) and were sent to the rear, as was Quin Houff for unapproved adjustments; Hill also lost his car chief Sebastian Laforge and had to serve a pass-through penalty. On Twitter, Laforge explained the #66 car encountered inspection troubles involving the rear toe and camber.
As Hamlin led every lap to the competition caution on lap 25, Hill served his penalty and Josh Bilicki‘s car lost power, forcing him to the garage before returning multiple laps down. Elliott reached fifteenth by the competition yellow.
Larson was the first off pit road to assume the lead for the restart on lap 31. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Corey LaJoie suffered speeding penalties on their stops while Kevin Harvick had to pit again for a flat left-rear tyre.
When the lap counter reached the sixties, green-flag stops commenced. Kurt Busch and William Byron briefly inherited the lead before they pitted, which cycled the spot back to Larson. The Las Vegas race winner led for the remainder of the segment to take the green-checkered flag. Kyle Busch, Blaney, Kurt Busch, Hamlin, Alex Bowman, Truex, Elliott, Chris Buescher, and Byron also scored stage points.
Ross Chastain received an uncontrolled tyre penalty between stages.
The race resumed on lap 113 as Larson and the inside line took off, while Kyle Busch spun his tyres on the outside and stacked up the lane. Brother Kurt was hit from behind by Hamlin and went into the turn one wall, ending his day and producing a caution.
Another restart took place on lap 119, with a repeat of the previous green flag occurring as Larson drove away while Byron suffered a tyre spin while leading his lane. Blaney led the lap before Larson retook it.
Lap 160 saw the next pit cycle under green. Daniel Suárez, working with interim crew chief Jose Blasco-Figueroa (the first Mexican driver/crew chief duo since brothers Pedro and Ricardo Rodriguez in 1959), momentarily held the lead before he hit pit road. Like in Stage #1, the stops ended with Larson taking the lead and pulling away for the stage victory.
Blaney, Kyle Busch, Byron, Matt DiBenedetto, Austin Dillon, Buescher, Hamlin, and Suárez rounded out the top ten. Suárez’s stage points were his first of the season and the first in Trackhouse Racing Team history.
Hendrick Motorsports team-mates Larson and Byron led the field to the final stage’s start on lap 218. As with the previous segment, green-flag racing barely lasted a lap as Hendrick driver Elliott’s engine expired to produce a caution.
Blaney beat Larson off pit road, while Busch received a speeding penalty. Larson chased down Blaney and passed him for the spot on lap 237.
The final stops under green commenced on lap 265. Suárez was penalised for speeding on pit road, while Anthony Alfredo spun and nearly sandwiched Aric Almirola‘s crewmen between the cars.
Blaney attempted to give chase to Larson, whose lead was 2.3 seconds with twenty laps to go. Five laps later, the margin was down to below a second, and was further reduced to half a second by the ten-to-go mark. Further complicating matters for Larson was lapped traffic, which included Blaney’s Team Penske colleague Joey Logano.
The lead change took place on the frontstretch with eight laps remaining and Blaney began building a gap that reached over a second after four laps. Blaney pulled away to win his first win of the year, fifth of his career, and first on a 1.5-mile track.
“We had a great long-run car all day,” Blaney told Fox. “It took us a little bit to get going and I was pretty free all day. We made a really good change to tighten me up where I needed it and it looked like Kyle was getting loose. I’m happy it worked in our favour that there was a couple long runs at the end that let us kind of get there. He got slowed up behind some lapped traffic.”
Larson had to settle for second.
“I think (Blaney) just got a lot better there that last stage and that kind of changed up my flow of the race a little bit,” he commented. “I could get out to such a big lead and then I could take care of my stuff and run the bottom where he was maybe slower but I could take care of my tyres. He was fast there, and I just wanted to maintain that gap that I had, so I had to run on the faster part of the race track and just use my stuff up. He was just a lot better than me late in the run.”
Bowman scored his first top five of the season in third followed by JGR’s Hamlin and Busch. Austin Dillon finished sixth for his first Cup top ten at Atlanta, and behind him was Chris Buescher with his first top ten of the year. Blaney’s Penske team-mate Austin Cindric finished twenty-second in his second career Cup start.
|1||10||12||Ryan Blaney||Team Penske||Ford||325||Running|
|2||6||5||Kyle Larson||Hendrick Motorsports||Chevrolet||325||Running|
|3||14||48||Alex Bowman||Hendrick Motorsports||Chevrolet||325||Running|
|4||1||11||Denny Hamlin||Joe Gibbs Racing||Toyota||325||Running|
|5||19||18||Kyle Busch||Joe Gibbs Racing||Toyota||325||Running|
|6||13||3||Austin Dillon||Richard Childress Racing||Chevrolet||325||Running|
|7||17||17||Chris Buescher||Roush Fenway Racing||Ford||325||Running|
|8||9||24||William Byron||Hendrick Motorsports||Chevrolet||325||Running|
|9||2||19||Martin Truex Jr.||Joe Gibbs Racing||Toyota||325||Running|
|10||7||4||Kevin Harvick||Stewart-Haas Racing||Ford||325||Running|
|11||20||21||Matt DiBenedetto||Wood Brothers Racing||Ford||325||Running|
|12||12||47||Ricky Stenhouse Jr.||JTG Daugherty Racing||Chevrolet||325||Running|
|13||28||6||Ryan Newman||Roush Fenway Racing||Ford||325||Running|
|14||21||42||Ross Chastain||Chip Ganassi Racing||Chevrolet||325||Running|
|15||3||22||Joey Logano||Team Penske||Ford||324||Running|
|16||15||23||Bubba Wallace||23XI Racing||Toyota||324||Running|
|17||25||99||Daniel Suárez||Trackhouse Racing Team||Chevrolet||324||Running|
|18||27||41||Cole Custer||Stewart-Haas Racing||Ford||324||Running|
|19||18||34||Michael McDowell||Front Row Motorsports||Ford||324||Running|
|20||16||10||Aric Almirola||Stewart-Haas Racing||Ford||324||Running|
|21||8||20||Christopher Bell||Joe Gibbs Racing||Toyota||323||Running|
|22||39||33||Austin Cindric*||Team Penske||Ford||323||Running|
|23||24||14||Chase Briscoe||Stewart-Haas Racing||Ford||323||Running|
|24||22||43||Erik Jones||Richard Petty Motorsports||Chevrolet||323||Running|
|25||23||37||Ryan Preece||JTG Daugherty Racing||Chevrolet||323||Running|
|26||29||8||Tyler Reddick||Richard Childress Racing||Chevrolet||323||Running|
|27||32||38||Anthony Alfredo||Front Row Motorsports||Ford||322||Running|
|28||4||2||Brad Keselowski||Team Penske||Ford||321||Running|
|29||30||7||Corey LaJoie||Spire Motorsports||Chevrolet||319||Running|
|30||26||77||Justin Haley*||Spire Motorsports||Chevrolet||319||Running|
|31||33||51||Cody Ware*||Rick Ware Racing||Chevrolet||316||Running|
|32||34||15||James Davison||Rick Ware Racing||Chevrolet||316||Running|
|33||35||00||Quin Houff||StarCom Racing||Chevrolet||314||Running|
|34||31||78||B.J. McLeod*||Live Fast Motorsports||Ford||313||Running|
|35||36||53||Joey Gase||Rick Ware Racing||Ford||308||Running|
|36||38||66||Timmy Hill*||MBM Motorsports||Ford||305||Running|
|37||37||52||Josh Bilicki||Rick Ware Racing||Ford||285||Running|
|38||5||9||Chase Elliott||Hendrick Motorsports||Chevrolet||220||Engine|
|39||11||1||Kurt Busch||Chip Ganassi Racing||Chevrolet||113||Accident|
* – Ineligible for Cup points