Elliott holds off LaJoie, giving Georgian first win in Atlanta

HAMPTON, Ga. (AP) — Chase Elliott passed Corey LaJoie with just under two laps to go and crossed the finish line under yellow after a block sent LaJoie crashing into the wall on Sunday, giving Georgia-born driver his first win at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

Elliott retired to the main stand, greeted by a loud ovation from fans who cheered loudly every time he went to the front and stretched to Dawsonville, the northern Georgia town that produced the winner and his father, longtime NASCAR. Cut star Bill Elliott.

The wild capper from another eventful Atlanta race denied LaJoie the first win of his career, which would have been a huge upset for the low-budget team Spire Motorsports.

Chase Elliott joined his father as the only Georgia-born drivers to win in Atlanta. Dale Earnhardt and Dale Earnhardt Jr. are the only other father-son to cross the checkered flag on the historic 1.54-mile track.

“Winning on his home track is a big deal for any race car driver,” Elliott said. “I’ve seen a lot of guys do it over the years. I felt today was a good opportunity for us. I’m so proud. It’s obviously my home, and that of a lot of great fans who made a lot of noise for me today.

Martin Truex Jr. was leading a tight field at the front of the pack when Ross Chastain caused his second wreck of the day with 14 laps to go.

Chastain, a two-time winner this season who has also made a lot of enemies with his overly aggressive driving, tapped the left rear panel of Denny Hamlin’s car. It sent the No.11 into a spin that ruined any chance of winning.

Truex led on the restart with eight laps to go, LaJoie took the lead on the backstretch, but the yellow flag came out when Hamlin was hit again. This time it was Christopher Bell trying to squeeze between Hamlin and Joey Logano, triggering a spin that destroyed all three cars.

That set up another restart with three laps to go. LaJoie led the pack from the inside lane but couldn’t hold off Elliott, who surged forward before taking the white flag.

LaJoie had a good run on the leader going into the first turn, but Elliott slid uphill to cut him off. LaJoie, who has just one top five finish in his career, ran out of space and broke the outside wall.

Chastain looked to make a move on Elliott, but the yellow lights flashed with the No.9 still nearly a car length ahead.

That was it. Elliott could finally relax, becoming the first three-time winner in a season that has produced 13 different winners.

“Obviously I knew (LaJoie) was going to have a big run. I tried to give him a good aggressive block,” Elliott said. “I don’t know what else to do. You go for the win or you don’t. I’m going to choose option A every time.

LaJoie, whose career-best finish was a fifth-place finish at the Atlanta spring race this year, nearly earned the most unlikely victory of a crazy season.

“It was fun,” he said. “It’s good to have that thing in front for once. I made my move. It didn’t work out.”

Chastain was the runner-up, followed by Austin Cindric, Erik Jones and Ryan Blaney. LaJoie settled for 21st place.

The first major wreck came on lap 91, triggered by Chastain giving Martin Truex Jr. a bump from behind at turn one.

Truex’s car began to spin and seven other drivers were herded into the fray, with Austin Dillon taking the biggest hit when he crashed almost head-on into the outside wall.

Dillon was fine, but his No. 3 Chevrolet was finished for the day – another blow for a driver who is increasingly desperate for his first win of the season to claim a playoff spot.

Dillon accused Chastain of being far too aggressive, a familiar complaint against the driver of the No. 1 machine.

“We’re just a victim of Ross Chastain again,” Dillon said after leaving the on-field care center. “You want to race hard all day, but you have guys like him destroying half the peloton.”

NEXT

Cup drivers will head to New Hampshire Motor Speedway next Sunday.

Aric Almirola, who is retiring from full-time racing at the end of this season, is the defending champion at the 1.058-mile Loudon oval.

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Follow Paul Newberry on Twitter at https://twitter.com/pnewberry1963

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More AP Auto Racing: https://apnews.com/hub/auto-racing and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports




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