NASCAR Cup Series

William Byron wins inaugural Cup race on new Atlanta

4 Mins read
Credit: Sean Gardner/Getty Images

After decades of being an intermediate track, Atlanta Motor Speedway is now an oddity on the NASCAR Cup Series schedule: it is still an intermediate circuit length-wise at 1.5 miles, but its greatly elevated 28-degree banking—the result of an offseason reconfiguration project—has transformed it into a superspeedway. William Byron, whose first career Cup win came at a superspeedway (Daytona in 2020), is the first premier series winner on the new layout after holding off a late scramble by the field.

A rainout placed Phoenix winner Chase Briscoe on the pole while Harrison Burton was sent to the rear for two failed pre-race inspections.

Stages #1 and 2

Briscoe and Kyle Busch led the early laps before Noah Gragson crashed to bring out the first caution on lap 24. Ross Chastain became the leader on the ensuing restart and continued to lead through the lap 45 competition caution before being responsible for one himself when his right-rear tyre went down and sent him into the wall on lap 94.

The first stage ended under another yellow flag when a larger wreck occurred on lap 100, triggered by Austin Dillon getting clipped by Busch on the tri-oval and collecting Briscoe and Ty Dillon; both Dillon brothers retired from a Cup race for the first time since the 2017 Bristol Night Race. Byron was the leader when the crash happened and therefore received the stage win, with Denny Hamlin, Daniel Suárez, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Erik Jones, Kurt Busch, Alex Bowman, Kyle Larson, Tyler Reddick, and Austin Cindric behind him.

The second stage commenced with Christopher Bell leading Cindric, though Kevin Harvick passed him for first on lap 122. Owing to the more superspeedway nature of the new course, the lead traded hands multiple times as Martin Truex Jr., Joey Logano, Kurt Busch, Justin Haley, Stenhouse, and Byron worked their way to the front with drafting help.

On lap 145, chaos broke when Reddick got loose in turn four from a flat tyre and spun, ricocheting off Busch and into the outside wall. Larson went sideways and clipped Corey LaJoie, who went airbourne through the tri-oval grass, and other casualties included Cindric, Hamlin, Logano, and Cole Custer. Custer explained shortly after that “the track is so narrow here that they got together up front and everybody stacked up with nowhere to go, so we hit the wall. We didn’t really hit that hard, but it broke some of the right-rear suspension and put us out.”

The next restart led to two laps of racing before a caution for debris.

Byron lost the lead to Stenhouse on lap 185. However, Stenhouse’s day came to an end as the race crossed the 200-lap mark when a flat tyre caused him to spin down the track before being hit by a sliding Cindric; Harvick and Erik Jones also suffered damage in the crash. Ten laps later, Larson and Hamlin wrecked together across the start/finish line.

“I was just trying to help Kyle there and I just needed to let him go off turn four,” commented Hamlin. “The track gets light there, the car starts to lift up and that’s where I needed to back off of him and I just didn’t and spun him out. It is a shame. Our car was really fast. We definitely slowed after the first part of the damage—we were involved in that first wreck.”

The Hamlin/Larson accident ended the second stage under yellow. Blaney won the segment ahead of Elliott, Briscoe, Aric Almirola, Brad Keselowski, Suárez, Truex, Bubba Wallace, Byron, and Chastain.

Stage #3

Suárez and Truex paced the field to the start of the final stage. The former led the first twelve laps before Truex and Elliott spent time in front. A debris caution on lap 253 led to Almirola spending time in front before Byron cleared him on lap 262.

As the race entered the 300s, Todd Gilliland hit the wall and Greg Biffle turned Cody Ware as the group bunched up. Ware briefly went into the air, which prevented him from using his brakes as he slammed into the inside wall on the backstretch. Another restart on lap 306 saw just one lap before Almirola was spun through the tri-oval following a strong push from Trackhouse Racing Team‘s Chastain and Suárez.

The final restart came with thirteen laps remaining as Byron and Jones lined up on the inside while best friends Wallace and Blaney led the outside. The latter duo cleared the field which allowed Wallace to begin blocking both lanes for three circuits before Byron found a run on the inside groove to shoot to the lead at the ten-to-go mark.

The leaders organised into single file, though some drivers like Elliott tried to break formation and get a run to no avail. As they began the final lap, Wallace received a strong enough push from Blaney to keep pace with Byron while Chastain attempted his own move on the inside that shuffled Blaney back.

With two rows once again, Wallace’s hopes of winning disappeared when he got loose while trying to reconnect with Blaney on the outside which caused the two to brush the wall with Briscoe in tow. In the opposite lane, Bell dove down Chastain’s inside but went below the white line separating the track and apron, resulting in a penalty. With Bell and Chastain battling each other, Byron developed enough of a cushion to take his third career victory.

As the field reached the finish, Chris Buescher was hit by Haley while vying for sixth, causing him to shoot up into the pack while Haley collided with Wallace, with all three drivers slamming into the outside wall.

Although Bell beat Chastain for second, the penalty relegated him to twenty-third and the last car on the lead lap. Consequently, Chastain secured his third straight top-three finish. Kurt Busch, the last pre-reconfiguration Atlanta winner, was third and LaJoie secured a career-best fifth while sliding backwards after being caught in the wreck.

Race results

11224William ByronHendrick MotorsportsChevrolet325Running
271Ross ChastainTrackhouse Racing TeamChevrolet325Running
3945Kurt Busch23XI RacingToyota325Running
41399Daniel SuárezTrackhouse Racing TeamChevrolet325Running
5337Corey LaJoieSpire MotorsportsChevrolet325Running
669Chase ElliottHendrick MotorsportsChevrolet325Running
71417Chris BuescherRFK RacingFord325Running
82619Martin Truex Jr.Joe Gibbs RacingToyota325Running
9322Joey LoganoTeam PenskeFord325Running
101148Alex BowmanHendrick MotorsportsChevrolet325Running
112231Justin HaleyKaulig RacingChevrolet325Running
12246Brad KeselowskiRFK RacingFord325Running
131923Bubba Wallace23XI RacingToyota325Running
142343Erik JonesPetty GMS MotorsportsChevrolet325Running
15114Chase BriscoeStewart-Haas RacingFord325Running
163677Josh Bilicki*Spire MotorsportsChevrolet325Running
17212Ryan BlaneyTeam PenskeFord325Running
183515David RaganRick Ware RacingFord325Running
193478B.J. McLeodLive Fast MotorsportsFord325Running
203744Greg BiffleNY Racing TeamChevrolet325Running
2184Kevin HarvickStewart-Haas RacingFord325Running
221010Aric AlmirolaStewart-Haas RacingFord325Running
232720Christopher BellJoe Gibbs RacingToyota325Running
242934Michael McDowellFront Row MotorsportsFord321Running
253121Harrison BurtonWood Brothers RacingFord321Running
263251Cody WareRick Ware RacingFord300Accident
272538Todd GillilandFront Row MotorsportsFord297DVP
2858Tyler ReddickRichard Childress RacingChevrolet245Accident
291511Denny HamlinJoe Gibbs RacingToyota212Accident
30215Kyle LarsonHendrick MotorsportsChevrolet212Accident
312847Ricky Stenhouse Jr.JTG Daugherty RacingChevrolet200Accident
32162Austin CindricTeam PenskeFord200Accident
33418Kyle BuschJoe Gibbs RacingToyota171Accident
342041Cole CusterStewart-Haas RacingFord150Accident
35173Austin DillonRichard Childress RacingChevrolet101Accident
361842Ty DillonPetty GMS MotorsportsChevrolet101Accident
373016Noah Gragson*Kaulig RacingChevrolet23Accident
Italics – Competing for Rookie of the Year
* – Ineligible for Cup points
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About author
Justin is a History major at San Jose State University and lifelong racing fan who has worked for The Checkered Flag since 2018. His coverage mainly focuses on NASCAR, the Stadium Super Trucks, and off-road series like Extreme E and SCORE International. He also dabbles in other disciplines such as IndyCar, rallycross, and sports cars.
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