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William Byron held the freight train behind him, taking the checkered flag for his third NASCAR Cup victory while a last crash unfolded behind him in a fitting finish on Sunday for an exciting and chaotic race at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
The reconfigured track – with new pavement and steeper inclines – satisfied those who predicted it would lead to frantic pack racing at blistering speeds approaching those seen at Talladega and Daytona.
“Pretty wild,” Byron said. “I’m out of breath. It was crazy.”
The result was 47 lead changes among an Atlanta record 20 drivers, a tight car jam at the front of the pack, leaving wrecks several top contenders and a bunch of wrecked race cars to take home.
Bryon led the final restart with 13 laps to go. Bubba Wallace briefly took the top spot, only to have Byron pass him right away.
Wallace always seemed to be in the most enviable position, especially if he could get a useful push for a slingshot on the final lap. But everyone behind Byron started jostling for position, all wanting to get in position to make the winning shot.
It worked perfectly for Byron, who pulled away to win by 0.145 seconds over Ross Chastain as the final wreck of the day sent four cars – including Wallace – spinning across the line.
In a final twist, Christopher Bell actually crossed the line in second, but NASCAR penalized him for diving under the double white line on the final lap straight to pass Chastain. Bell was dropped in 23rd place.
Dark blond made a good comeback after having a tire puncture at the start of the race when he was in the lead. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. also punctured a tire while running ahead. Defending Series Champion Kyle Larson, the front of his No. 5 Chevy patched with duct tape, had just given up first place when Denny Hamlin shoved it from behind, looking to give him a useful push – only to send him into a spin that knocked them both out of the race.
“Everyone is hanging on for dear life,” Ryan Blaney said during a time of caution.
That summed things up perfectly.
On reboot after early Chastain crash, another wreck eliminated both Dillon brothers.
Kyle Busch gave Austin Dillon a slight bump from behind entering the quad-oval, sending Dillon into the wall. Ty Dillon and Chase Briscoe spun behind them, leaving young Dillon with heavy damage as well.
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The brothers were forced to retire, leaving Austin with a 35th place finish and Ty in 36th.
“I was in the gas wide open and 18 (Busch) pushed us and let me go,” Austin Dillon said. “I don’t want to say worse. My feelings are hurt. This is the second week in a row I’ve been out.”
In Phoenix, Daniel Suarez made contact with Dillon on the final lap and sent the No. 3 into the wall, costing him a top-10 spot.
Byron took the Stage 1 victory under yellow. Blaney did the same in Stage 2. … Bell hit his valet in the right leg during a pit stop. The crew member was able to complete the change, before being taken to the field care center for treatment. His condition was not immediately available, and another crew member stepped in for Bell’s remaining stops. … Brad Keselowski and Harrison Burton had to start from the back of the field. Keselowski was penalized for modifications made to his car after inspection, while Burton’s machine failed inspection. … There were only 37 entries – three less than a full field. … After struggling with attendance for years, an up-and-coming crowd traveled to Atlanta on a sunny day with temperatures soaring to nearly 70 degrees. The infield was packed, while the huge stands were dotted with a handful of empty seats. … NASCAR will return to Atlanta on July 11.
The Cup Series heads to the Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas for the first of six road races this season. Chase Elliott won the inaugural COTA race a year ago.