Joey Logano passes Brad Keselowski on the last lap and takes the flag at Atlanta
Joey Logano took control early on and then passed Brad Keselowski on the final lap to win NASCAR race at Atlanta Motor Speedway and ending the early Sunday dominance of Chevrolet and Hendrick Motorsports.
Logano won the pole and led a strong showing of three Team Penske drivers in a row in qualifying, but Keselowski looked like the Ford driver who beat him late in the race. Keselowski got help from Corey LaJoie, but Logano got a push from Christopher Bell that proved decisive on the final lap.
Bell finished third in a Toyota while LaJoie finished a Fourth best career at Chevrolet.
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“The first win of the season always feels better,” said the Cup champion, who led 141 of the 260 laps.
Logano’s win ended Chevrolet’s streak of four consecutive victories in the NASCAR Cup season opener, including back-to-back victories in William Byron or Hendrick.
Propelled by Penske teammates Ryan Blaney and Austin Cindrick, Logano passed Keselowski to retake the lead with 34 laps to go. Keselowski retook the lead to set up drama on the final lap.
After a no caution during the second stage, competition – and crashes – picked up late in the race.
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Kevin Harvick, who won the Atlanta title in 2018 and 2020, was leading late on when he lost control while being pushed by Ross Chastain. Replays indicated that Chastain’s Chevrolet did not hit Harvick’s Ford, but that Harvick’s spin caused a major crash.
“I think he was so close to me that he caught me in the corner,” Harvick said of Chastain. “The way he came from right to left took the car away from me.”
Byron described the wreck as “just part of the race”.
Another wreck for the leaders followed 20 laps later when Aric Almirola blew a tire, causing a spin that also took out Kyle Larson and Daniel Suarez.
The four Hendrick Motorsports drivers had their crew chiefs fill in after the largest combined fine on a single team in series history for adjusting air deflectors last weekend at Phoenix Raceway. Hendrick was issued with combined fines of $400,000 plus a four-race suspension for the crew chiefs.
Elliott plans to go home in July
Chase Elliott, the Georgia native who won last summer’s race at his home track, continues to recover in Colorado from a broken tibia he suffered while snowboarding for a month.
Elliott posted on his Twitter account regretting not being able to run in Sunday’s race: “This is going to be tough today because I won’t be at ATL for obvious reasons, but I can’t wait to see everyone there in July!”
When Hendrick Motorsports tweeted to Elliott “Not the same without you here,” Elliott replied hoping “my friends will be back sooner rather than later.”
Odds and ends
Atlanta Motor Speedway announced a multi-year contract extension with Quaker State for the July 9th race. Quaker State will also be the primary sponsor for Daniel Suarez’s car at the summer race in Atlanta as well as at Richmond on April 2nd… Tyler Reddick started 16th and finished 5th after pre-race concerns that he was ill and might not be competitive in his Toyota . Riddick was excused from the drivers’ meeting before the race. John Hunter Nemechek, who finished eighth in Saturday night’s Xfinity race, was available to fill in if Reddick was unable to complete the race.
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The NASCAR Cup Series moves to Austin, Texas, and the Circuit of the Americas next Sunday. Ross Chastain earned his first career win on a road course last year.