NASCAR points, results at Atlanta as Byron rallies from 36th to win rain-shortened race
William Byron scored his series-leading fourth victory by rebounding from 36th to first in the final 75 laps at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
In an impressive comeback from 36th to first, William Byron earned his series-leading fourth victory Sunday night at Atlanta Motor Speedway, where NASCAR shortened the race to 185 of a scheduled 260 laps because of rain.
Daniel Suarez finished second, followed by A.J. Allmendinger, Michael McDowell and Kyle Busch.
The 60-lap first stage featured a memorable finish as Ryan Blaney outdueled Joey Logano and Kyle Larson to take the checkered flag. With the threat of raining looming throughout, the racing mostly was furious despite only reaching 70 percent of the scheduled distance.
Byron fell the way to 36th after contact with Corey LaJoie caused him to spin on Lap 80, but he was able to work his way through the field to lead the final 20 laps.
“It was awesome,” Byron told NBC Sports’ Marty Snider. “I think that’s all you can ask for on a superspeedway. We want handling to matter. We want to be able to drive the things. I felt like the first stage was really fun. I was able to make some moves on the bottom, and you’re lifting every corner, so it’s really different than a 550 (horsepower) old-style race, but it’s more packed up. It’s still handling matters and guys can make aggressive moves.
“I was certainly edgy back in traffic, but (crew chief) Rudy (Fugle) made a good call, and we got it towards the front, and sometimes that’s what it takes. Just thankful for the whole team and just staying in it because we were a lap down and it could have been over. Just thankful for a good team to make good decisions, and like I said, to stay in the race when it’s easy to kind of give up and pack it in.”
With seven races remaining in the regular season, there are 11 drivers qualified for the playoffs and five spots still open on the grid.
NASCAR’s premier series will head to New Hampshire Motor Speedway next weekend.
Even though NASCAR completed only 185 of 260 laps, there were some takeaways:
J.J.'s big day
A seventh-place finish for J.J. Yeley was his first top 10 since the 2013 Daytona 500 and his best finish since a third in the June 29, 2008 race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway (which also was shortened by rain).
“There’s no complaints from me,” Yeley told Dustin Long. “I can guarantee you (team owner) Rick Ware is not going to complain). We’re learning a lot of things in the middle of the season. Just running well gives us a little more credibility with RFK, and they’ll continue to help make us faster. Their relationship is the key to why we are where we are.
“They’ve really taken upper management and our crew chiefs and showed them things and really helped mold these cars. There are so many small things that make a difference in speed in these cars, and we just didn’t know those things. We didn’t have the access. We have it now and have fast race cars..”
Tough night for Toyota
After prerace meetings on how to organize a better drafting attack at Atlanta, it was a forgettable night for the Toyota Racing Development stable.
The highest-finishing Camry belonged to Denny Hamlin in 14th (despite being involved in a wreck with 30 laps to go). No other Toyotas finished in the top 20.
Chase’s missed shot
Though Hendrick Motorsports teammates William Byron (rebounding from 36th to victory in 75 laps) and Kyle Larson (nearly winning Stage 1) excelled, Chase Elliott never was a factor. He finished 13th after starting 23rd.
But the five-time Most Popular Driver still has an outside to make the playoffs on points and should be a threat to win at Watkins Glen International, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course and Daytona International Speedway.
No one got squeezed out of the provisional playoff grid by a new winner, but there was some significant movement on the cutline after the race at Atlanta Motor Speedway was shortened to 185 of 260 laps by rain.
Daniel Suarez (second) and Michael McDowell (fourth) moved into the last two spots on the playoff grid while Bubba Wallace and Ty Gibbs both fell outside the playoffs.
“I have a little bit of mixed feelings,” Suarez said. “Maybe it’s best to finish second than to wreck.”
McDowell, whose team had gambled by staying out while betting on the rain, said he had to flip to his reserve fuel tank while running under caution and was two pace laps away from running dry.
“I was doing my best to save as much as I could, so it never stumbled or ran out, but I was starting to lose a little fuel pressure, so we were close for sure,” McDowell said.
Though they remained winless, Kevin Harvick and Roush Fenway Keselowski Racing teammates Chris Buescher and Brad Keselowski picked up some breathing room on the cutline.
With his Atlanta win, Byron now leads the regular-season standings by 21 points over Martin Truex Jr.
At 9:59 p.m. ET with a storm expected to sit over the track for the next two hours, NASCAR makes it official, shortening the race at Atlanta Motor Speedway and declaring William Byron the winner.
It’s the series-leading fourth victory this season for the Hendrick Motorsports star, who had four victories entering this season (hat tip to Jeff Gluck of The Athletic ). And it’s an impressive comeback for Byron’s No. 24 Chevrolet, which fell to 36th after a spin on Lap 80 but avoided major damage.
“Just teamwork, honestly, I don’t completely understand this one,” Byron told NBC Sports’ Marty Snider. “It’s just a really good feeling. I’ve never had a rain victory like this. It’s cool, man. We went through so much throughout the night. Spinning through the infield, destroyed the bottom of the car dragging it around the apron trying to stay on the lead lap.
“At that point, you just don’t have the grip. So I was real edgy back in traffic. (Crew chief) Rudy (Fugle) made a good call to pit there and then stay out and then once we got toward the front, it was OK.”
Daniel Suarez finished second, followed by A.J. Allmendinger, Michael McDowell and Kyle Busch.
A multicar crash involving Bubba Wallace and Ryan Preece brought out the yellow flag, which then brought the cars to the pits on Lap 186 of 260 because of rain.
The long expected storm finally is here, but it doesn’t appear to be the monsoon-esque conditions of last week at Chicago. Is there time to dry the track and get restarted?
William Byron, who has rebounded from his Lap 80 spin that dropped him to 36th, is leading the race, followed by Daniel Suarez, A.J. Allmendinger, Michael McDowell and Kyle Busch. The rest of the top 10: Brad Keselowski, J.J. Yeley, Ryan Blaney, Justin Haley and Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
McDowell will have to pit when the race returns to green, having gambled by staying on track while the rest of the top 10 can go about another 20 laps before needing fuel.
Top 10 drivers who are winless this season and trying to lock into the playoffs: Suarez, Allmendinger, McDowell, Keselowski, Yeley and Haley.
Alex Bowman wiggled in Turn 4 and slid up the track into Denny Hamlin, whose No. 11 Toyota then slid back down the banking into Bowman’s No. 48 Chevrolet.
Christopher Bell also scraped the outside wall trying to avoid Hamlin, his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate.
The wreck brought out a yellow that essentially ended Stage 2, giving the win to Brad Keselowski. The rest of the top 10: Ryan Blaney, Chris Buescher, Austin Cindric, A.J. Allmendinger, Bubba Wallace, Bell, Michael McDowell, Justin Haley and Ryan Preece.
Austin Cindric has been racing furiously at the front, and it seems as if the Team Penske driver is seeing all the angles.
That would make sense given that the 2022 Daytona 500 winner showed up at Atlanta Motor Speedway with a new pair of glasses.
Cindric is near-sighted, and he told Dustin Long and other reporters that he realized he needed help when he struggled toward the end of the Nashville race under the lights two weeks ago.
“I have trouble seeing things far away,” said Cindric, who got his new glasses Wednesday. “My profession requires me to identify things that are far away at a high rate of speed. I would identify that as significantly important to eliminate a weakness. I don’t really care what I look like. Some people think glasses make you look worse. Some people think glasses make you look better. I don’t really care as long as they make me see better.”
Chris Buescher led Lap 130 in Saturday night’s Cup race at Atlanta.
That marked the halfway point of the race, making it official with rain moving closer.
At Lap 130, Austin Cindric was second and followed by Ryan Blaney, Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski.
Buescher, Cindric and Keselowski have yet to win this season.
The first yellow for a multicar crash started when Erik Jones touched the left rear of Corey LaJoie’s No. 7 Chevrolet, which slid into traffic and collected the No. 54 Toyota of Ty Gibbs and No. 1 Chevy of Ross Chastain. Tyler Reddick also slapped the outside wall while trying to avoid LaJoie.
Chastain, Gibbs and LaJoie each lost laps for repairs in the pits.
It’s a tough break for LaJoie, who has two top fives in the past three starts at Atlanta and had a new sponsor in Gainbridge. He put the blame for the wreck on Jones, who also was on the periphery of an earlier incident wih Kyle Larson.
An increasing amount of chatter on team radios is about a large storm front moving from the west toward Atlanta Motor Speedway.
Approaching the Lap 130 halfway mark — which will make the race’s running order official if NASCAR elects to stop it — crew chief Chris Gabehart has told Denny Hamlin that he expects a weather interruption.
Chris Buescher leads ahead of A.J. Allmendinger, and neither has a victory yet this season. Behind them in the pack, the intensity level seems to be building as drivers become aware that this might be a race to half-distance.
The yellow flag keeps flying at Atlanta Motor Speedway and with more bad news for Hendrick Motorsports.
Kyle Larson spun off Turn 4 after appearing to lose control of his No. 5 Chevrolet just before light contact in the rear by the No. 43 Chevy of Erik Jones.
Though Larson avoided any major contact in the spin down to the apron, his car suffered major right-front damage when his tire exploded as Larson tried to return to the pits.
After challenging for the Stage 1 victory, the 2021 Cup Series champion now is out of the race and will finish 36th.
The news is better for Hendrick teammate William Byron, who is back on the lead lap after his spin 13 laps earlier.
Another caution with minimal damage despite some wild pack racing at Altanta.
The third yellow flag was for Wiliam Byron, whose No. 24 Chevrolet spun through the grass on the front straightaway after being hooked in the left rear by Corey LaJoie’s No. 7 Chevy. LaJoie radioed his team that he thought he was clear.
After powering into the top five with a strong first stage, Byron had fallen outside the top 25 because of a safety violation on his pit stop .
Though he lost a lap and fell to 26th, Byron seemed to suffer no damage beyond a flat right-rear tire. So it’s too early to count out the Hendrick Motorsports star, who is tied with Kyle Busch with a series-leading three wins this season.
After winning Stage 1, Ryan Blaney has settled into the lead with some friendly Team Penske company.
Teammates Joey Logano and Austin Cindric currently round out the top three ahead of the Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolets of Kyle Larson and Alex Bowman.
Blaney and Logano already have wins this season to qualify for the playoffs, so if the running order stays this way, expect some chatter on whether Penske can try to help position Cindric for his first victory this season.
The finish of Stage 1 at Atlanta featured a wild last-lap scramble won by Ryan Blaney.
After clearing his Team Penske teammate Joey Logano at the end of the backstretch, Blaney won a drag race over Kyle Larson, who dove to the bottom under Logano and briefly got ahead of Blaney.
Top 10 finishers in Stage 1: Blaney, Larson, Martin Truex Jr., Logano, William Byron, Christopher Bell, Austin Cindric, Michael McDowell, Tyler Reddick, Aric Almirola,
Joey Logano swept into the lead with Team Penske teammate Ryan Blaney with 10 laps remaining in Stage 1.
Tyler Reddick averted major disaster after contact in the right rear from Austin Cindric. Reddick saved his No. 45 Toyota in traffic in the middle of the pack on the frontstretch.
After starting 23rd, Chase Elliott steadily marched to the edge of the top 15 before stalling out and fading to 20th.
The first caution of the race was for a single-car incident despite 37 cars racing relatively close together.
Harrison Burton lost control of his No. 21 Ford on the exit of Turn 2 at 177 mph and spun down the backstretch and made light contact with the inside barrier.
Unfortunately, Burton needed a tow back to the pits and fell five laps down. The Wood Brothers Racing had qualified fifth in hopes of earning a playoff berth with the first victory of his Cup career.
Pole-sitter Aric Almirola led the first lap of 260 at Atlanta Motor Speedway as Fords occupied the first three rows and eight of the top 10 spots.
Fords have struggled mightily recently at the speedways (Brad Keselowski in 10th was the highest finisher at Nashville two weeks ago), but the Mustangs seem well-suited for the pack racing of Atlanta.
After the field sorted out the first few laps, Fords held down the top five at Atlanta with Almirola, Joey Logano, Ryan Blaney, Chase Briscoe and Harrison Burton. Tyler Gibbs was the top Toyota driver in sixth, and Chevrolet’s Kyle Larson was seventh.
There was a poignant moment on the pace laps as Kevin Harvick, making his final start at Atlanta, took a lap alongside a No. 29 Chevrolet driven by Richard Childress. It was the car that Harvick won his first Cup race on March 11, 2001.
That was Harvick’s third start in NASCAR’s premier series after filling the Richard Childress Racing seat left by the death of seven-time champion Dale Earnhardt in a crash on the final lap of the Daytona 500.
Fans in the grandstands held up three fingers as Harvick and Childress took the lap — just as NASCAR fans did throughout the 2001 season on the third lap of every race in honor of Earnhardt’s car number.
Childress also gave the command to start engines from the cockpit of the No. 29.
All eyes will be on Chase Elliott after the Dawsonville, Georgia, native outdueled Corey LaJoie to earn his first victory at his hometown track.
But expect a strong bid from LaJoie, who has a new sponsor in Gainbridge (whose CEO and founder is a co-owner of Andretti Autosport and on Colton Herta’s ride in the IndyCar Series), has two top five finishes in the three races since Atlanta was reconfigured.
Other storylines to watch:
—In her weekly column , Diandra Leslie-Pelecky writes there will be more new winners in the final eight races of the regular season. Will there be as many as last year’s 16 in the first 26 races? (Shane van Gisbergen made it 12 winners last week at Chicago, but his victory wasn’t playoff-eligible.
—Toyotas are working on better teamwork after Christopher Bell got thwarted by the Ford duo of Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski at Atlanta in March. Bell told NBC Sports’ Dustin Long that led to some weighty debrief sessions at Toyota Racing Development.