NASCAR Talk’s Nate Ryan joined Jenna Corrado to discuss the struggles of Roush Fenway Racing, the appeals for Ryan Newman’s No. 31 team and Danica Patrick’s strong start to the season.
NASCAR Talk’s Nate Ryan joined Jenna Corrado to discuss the struggles of Roush Fenway Racing, the appeals for Ryan Newman’s No. 31 team and Danica Patrick’s strong start to the season.
HAMPTON, Ga. — As they began the final lap of Sunday’s Cup race at Atlanta Motor Speedway, Brad Keselowski led Christopher Bell by a car length. Joey Logano ran third, with Corey LaJoie on his rear bumper in fourth, and Tyler Reddick beside LaJoie in fifth.
So much was at stake over the final 1.54 miles and would be determined in the next 30 seconds on a brisk day at a track that looks like an intermediate speedway but races like Daytona and Talladega.
Here’s what mattered for each:
It started with Keselowski, who is in his second year as owner-driver at RFK Racing. The organization fought through struggles last year before teammate Chris Buescher won the Bristol night race.
Keselowski was going for his first Cup victory for his team in what has been a markedly better start to this season compared to last year.
“You need days like this,” Keselowski said afterward. “You just wish they were wins. We were right there, just didn’t come together at the end.”
Bell is proving to be the under-appreciated ace in the Cup series.
He twice needed to win to advance in the next round of the playoffs last year — and did so. Both victories were overshadowed. The focus at the Charlotte Roval was on Chase Briscoe eliminating Kyle Larson from the playoffs instead of Bell’s win. Ross Chastain’s video game move was the talk of Martinsville instead of Bell’s triumph that day.
Nobody had won this year in Cup except Chevrolet drivers. That made this a key race for Ford and Toyota drivers.
“We haven’t had the start to the season we’d want or hope for,” said Paul Wolfe, crew chief for Logano. “The West Coast swing was pretty rough on us. We had speed at times, but not really where we need to be on any of those tracks. So we’ve got our work cut out for us.
“We know the speedways with all the aero changes to all the manufacturers, the speedways are probably the strengths for the Fords right now. I think we saw that in Daytona as well. If you look at qualifying (Saturday), that will probably point to that same sign.
“We have to take advantage of these races right now. If this is our strength, we got to make sure we execute. That’s probably what I’m most proud of, is we were able to come here and get the win. Now we’ve really have to squeeze hard to get more speed out of our cars on the downforce tracks.”
LaJoie finished fifth in this race a year ago and was passed for the lead with two laps to go. He entered Sunday’s race winless in 204 career Cup races. He had three top-20 finishes in the first four races of the year, solid performances for his Spire Motorsports team. He’s gained some attention for those efforts.
“If we have a good car like we saw at Fontana or Las Vegas,” LaJoie said earlier this week of his 14th at California and 20th at Las Vegas, “then I can go get the job done and be up front. So, certainly a crucial beginning part of the season for me with the future of my career. I want to make sure people know what I’m capable of, no matter whether it’s an intermediate or a short track or superspeedway.”
Reddick is in his first season with 23XI Racing and it has been a rough start to the season. He was eliminated by accidents in the first two races of the year. He scored his first top 10 of the year last week at Phoenix and looked for even more Sunday.
It is what all those situations hovering as the white flag waved to begin the final lap.
The key moment came with LaJoie planted on the back of Logano’s rear bumper on the inside lane.
“Joey got such a huge run down the frontstretch,” Keselowski said. “There was nothing I could do to stop it other than wreck all of us.”
Logano said that LaJoie “clobbered me at the start/finish line, gave me such a big run.”
That energy allowed Logano to go from the bottom lane to the top lane — while narrowly slipping between Keselowski and Bell.
“When you get a run like that on the last lap, you can’t lift, you just can’t,” Logano said.
He knew he needed to move up the track to avoid having Keselowski block him on the bottom lane.
“I had to get up there and slip to his outside,” Logano said. “Ultimately, that’s the move that was going to win the race.
“If I got to his inside, you have a chance, maybe a 20% chance of winning the race depending on what kind of push you get down the backstretch. Most likely we were not going to win the race.”
He did and Keselowski finished second.
“We know each other’s moves pretty well, for sure, but it just matters how the cookie crumbles and it kind of came his way at he end and he made a good move,” Keselowski said. “Kudos to him. We’re right there, though, as our team just continues to improve and show what we’re made of, so I’m proud of that.
Bell finished third and was left to wonder what if.
“I had the position (Logano) had and I decided to bail on it and go to the top,” Bell said. “To come so close is disappointing.”
LaJoie finished a career-best fourth.
“Hell, yeah, there’s moral victories,” LaJoie said after Sunday’s finish. “If you get … smashed 35 weekends out of the year, here’s an opportunity where you can win. When you can run fourth, there are so many good things wrapped up in that. … For me, it’s huge. For our team, it’s huge.”
For Reddick, a day that started with John Hunter Nemechek on standby because Reddick wasn’t feeling well, ended with Reddick scoring his second consecutive top five.
“I was trying to create an opportunity to where myself Christopher Bell and Denny Hamlin could all break away and take advantage of momentum,” Reddick said. “It didn’t quite work out timing-wise where it needed for that. All in all, an OK day.”
HAMPTON, Ga. — A look at what drivers said during and after Sunday’s Cup Series race at Atlanta Motor Speedway:
Joey Logano — Winner: “We lost our track position there for a minute, but was able to just stay patient and work on it and this amazing fast race car allowed me to really make some great moves on the racetrack and getting the push there on the last lap to get to the outside of Brad (Keselowski). Just getting to break the plane of his back bumper was gonna be my only chance there, and I was able to get him there and get the push from the 20 (Christopher Bell) on the backstretch. Overall, just a really fast Ford Mustang is what it came down to. It’s nice to win with Autotrader on the car. I don’t think I’ve ever won a race without Shell on the car. It means a lot to get this one in Victory Lane. It’s been a lot of years coming. The intensity ratcheted up, obviously. I’ve got great teammates, and I wanted to stick with them. There were plenty of times I could have moved up, but I didn’t want to leave my teammates down there. I wanted them behind me. I knew how fast their cars were. If I could pick one, that’s the one I want, so I was able to try to keep them with me. I thought with two to go the outside lane got three cars, four cars clear and I was like, ‘I don’t know if I’m gonna make it here,’ but I got a good push – enough to get to the outside of the 6, and that was the big difference.”
Brad Keselowski — Finished 2nd: “The bottom came with a huge run. I don’t know how. I thought I had it blocked. Joey just kept shaking. His car didn’t stall out. I couldn’t get the push down the back. I thought, ‘Just get a push down the back.’ The 20 car (Bell) just hauled down there. But great run all in all for the RFK King’s Hawaiian Ford Mustang. Glad a Ford won. A heck of a battle. The coolest thing about this race is two veterans showed you can run a race here side by side, bump-drafting, and not wreck the field. It can happen if you race respectfully. I thought everybody did a great job. We were right there. Proud of my team and the effort. Nothing much we could do there at the end. Night and day from where we were a year ago. 100%. Keep running like this, the good finishes and the wins will happen.”
Christopher Bell — Finished 3rd: “Got a good finish out of it, and I’m happy with that. I don’t know, I had the position the 22 (Joey Logano) had, and I decided to bail on it and go to the top. To come so close is disappointing, but very happy with a third-place result. It was a pretty smooth day really. We started in the back, and we were able to get up front and get some stage points at the end of Stage 1, so that was pretty cool. Stage 2, the green flag cycle didn’t really work our way. Ultimately, we were able to keep the DeWalt Camry clean all day and put ourselves in position at the end of the race, so that’s all you can ask for. Speedway racing is a lot about luck and, fortunately, it worked out for us at Daytona and now here.”
Corey LaJoie — Finished 4th: “It’s like this taboo, second sucks. Fourth is great. Fourth is great for our CELSIUS Camaro and our small team. Just a great points day. We started off the year, West Coast swing, really solid. To come back here, a bit of a crapshoot. To get another career best here… I don’t expect to show up and instantly win a race. You have to keep putting yourself in these positions, like Joey (Logano). That is why he wins all the time, because he’s up front all the time. As I get some more confidence, race around these guys, these guys see me up there racing with them, our day is going to come. I hope he (Logano) gives me a shout-out for pushing him — gave him a good shot there at the end. I was probably fourth or fifth in the top lane there. I had an opportunity to get down and as soon as I didn’t take it, I was like – man, that was the race. That was probably with 18 or 20 to go. That’s why these guys make millions of dollars, They’re pretty good and know where to put their car. Honestly, I think as this track gets a little more wear and abrasiveness to it, it’s going to be like old Daytona where you’re bumping and sliding around, and your car has to be fast. I felt like the track lost 10 to 15 percent of grip from last year, so handling was a big thing. You could really drive or push if you wanted to, or you could be sideways. Our Chevy drove great. We were able to pick the right lanes at the right time, just a little short.”
Tyler Reddick — Finished 5th: “We’ll try to just go back and look at it. Our Xfinity Toyota Camry TRD was as fast as the Xfinity 10 G network. We had Toyotas lined up there, and I didn’t know if that was our move there with all three together or Christopher (Bell) was going to do it on his own. We’ll talk about it, for sure. I don’t know, maybe if we all would have went it would have worked out for one of us. I’m not really sure. It didn’t really work for one of us, so it’s definitely something for us to think about so that one of us can win the race there. It’s a bummer that we let someone else get it done. There was definitely some hard work going on. Joey (Logano) was doing Joey things. He was making the bottom work really good. … I was also at the same time trying to create an opportunity where all three – myself, Christopher Bell and Denny Hamlin — could all break away and take advantage of momentum. It didn’t quite work out timing-wise as it needed to for that. All in all, it was an okay day.”
Denny Hamlin — Finished 6th: “The last pit road incident where cars are coming in and I’m coming out, that’s just part of it. The traffic jam that you get there. But speedways in general like this one, it’s just kind of two-by-two and you can’t really pull out to a third lane. I just restarted I think fourth on the outside row and that’s where I ended up. You have to stay in line and just watch the cars in front of you to see if you can make a hole. It’s just so circumstantial that you want to be able to stay as close as you can to each other to give each other runs. I thought there was one opportunity there where we all were clear and we could have all pulled down in front of the 22 (Joey Logano), and we didn’t. That probably was the key moment for us, but overall it is what it is, and it’s probably the most Toyotas we’ve had in the top 10 all year. Just have to continue to get better. We just need more speed, more handling, more everything to get a little better.”
Erik Jones — Finished 8th: “Just looking at the day, I thought we were just stuck farther back. It was just hard to pass. We didn’t qualify good, so it just took a while for us to get up there, and we never really did, and then we got in a crash there. Happy to get a top 10 for the No. 43 Allegiant Chevy. We needed that. We just needed a good finish. We haven’t had one this year, so it was nice to do that. I hope we keep it rolling. We just kind of squeaked that one out there at the end with some stuff working out on the last two laps for us. But happy with that, proud of that. Glad we can hopefully get some momentum going and keep rolling.”
Ty Gibbs — Finished 9th: “I feel like from where we started to where we finished, we made really good progression. The team, my 54 group, never gave up on me, and we had great stops all day. We had a very fast Monster Energy Toyota Camry TRD, just ran out of laps there. Probably could have worked our way up a little bit and been more aggressive, but it just comes with experience, but we’re plate racing and that’s just part of it and just learning and we’ll move on and go to the next race.”
Kyle Busch — Finished 10th: “We had a decent day. Our No. 8 Lenovo Camaro was fast enough. I think there were probably 20 of them that were fast enough. It was just a matter of positioning yourself and getting positioned there toward the end. I got shuffled out to around 16th and then made our way back into the top 10. Tried to make a move there with four to go on the outside and just hit a block or a wall of air and just slowed up. Top-10 finish. We’ll take that and head to COTA.”
Noah Gragson — Finished 12th: “It was a smooth, solid day for the No. 42 Sunseeker Resorts Chevy team. I felt pretty competitive running in the top 10 or 15 throughout the race. Really felt like we had a decent shot, we were just a little too far back there at the end to really make anything happen. But solid execution and solid job by everyone on the No. 42 Legacy Motor Club Chevy team.”
AJ Allmendinger — Finished 16th: “I thought we made the best of it. We got a little bit of damage in one of the wrecks, and that probably didn’t help our speed, but we were just lacking speed in general, which made it tough for us to make moves and we kinda got stuck. Pit stops were really good, strategy was really good. We did everything right and the car handled well, just got stuck there in pack racing and we didn’t have a lot of raw speed in the car. We just tried to make the best there with what we had and we got out with a clean race car.”
Josh Berry — Finished 18th: “I thought it was a solid day for the No. 9 NAPA Chevy. I feel like we definitely improved. We got up there in the top 10, and we were pretty solid before that wreck. After that, the car was just a little too damaged to be too aggressive. All-in-all, we finished the race, learned a lot and had some fun.”
Bubba Wallace — Finished 27th: “Long hard-fought day. Proud of our team for never giving up and getting us past the checkered. Onward to Texas.”
Aric Almirola — Finished 30th: “I’m OK. It knocked the wind out of me, mostly because it caught me by surprise, but I’m OK. I blew a tire. I just blew a tire. I have no idea why. We had way less laps on that set of tires than we had earlier, so I don’t know.”
Kyle Larson — Finished 31st: “There was nowhere to go. Nobody had been having tire issues, so I wasn’t even expecting the No. 10 (Aric Almirola) to have a tire issue in front of me. Even if I did, I didn’t have time to react. It’s a bummer. Just frustrating. I was finally up front on this style of race track and still end up with a DNF. I don’t know, just frustrating.”
William Byron — Finished 32nd: “It was superspeedway-type racing. I thought, for the most part, it was pretty single-file all day. That was a little discouraging because the bottom lane wouldn’t really go that much. But as we all started to save fuel on the top, the bottom started to surge there. It looked like the No. 1 (Ross Chastain) and the No. 4 (Kevin Harvick) just got connected there into Turn 1 and got the No. 4 loose. It’s just part of racing. That’s the way it goes — not really in our control. We were up there running in the top five and doing what we needed to do.”
Kevin Harvick — Finished 33rd: “I think he (Ross Chastain) just caught me so quick right there in the middle of the corner, and then he kind of was up on the right rear part of the corner and he came back down and when he came back down it just spun the thing out. I don’t think he actually even hit me, but it started chattering the rear tires, and then I was just along for the ride.”
Harrison Burton — Finished 34th: “I don’t even know what caused our wreck. I was looking back and forth between the windshield and the mirror trying to block people from being aggressive and taking you in the middle of three-wide. I looked back and forth, and by the time I looked back they were wrecking in front of me. It’s just one of those deals. It was such a frustrating deal. I feel like our qualifying effort was not very good, obviously. I about crashed in qualifying, but I felt really good about our car in the race, but I just could not gain track position to maintain it. It’s really, really hard to leapfrog your way forward a lot of spots. It’s just frustrating how that worked out. Once you’re back there, you’re bound to get pushed into all the wrecks for sure.”
Chris Buescher — Finished 35th: “First off, our Violet Defense Ford Mustang was really fast, and I’m proud of everybody for that. I made a mistake on pit road by getting a speeding penalty, and that put us back in the field. We drove back up to third. The speed was there, and we were doing it without unnecessary pushes in the center of the corner. I haven’t seen a replay to know exactly what happened, but I’ve got a pretty good feeling.”
HAMPTON, Ga. — A last-lap pass lifted Joey Logano to his first win of the NASCAR Cup Series season Sunday as he moved around leader Brad Keselowski for his 32nd career victory.
Logano’s Ford was dominant most of the afternoon, and the victory ended a four-race win streak by Chevrolets.
Following Logano in the top five were Keselowski, Christopher Bell, Corey LaJoie (with his career-best finish) and Tyler Reddick.
HAMPTON, Ga. — Joey Logano slipped past leader Brad Keselowski on the final lap and won Sunday’s NASCAR Cup Series race at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
Although Chevrolet drivers won the season’s first four races, Fords and Toyotas were in the mix for the win in the closing laps Sunday.
Keselowski, seeking to end a 66-race winless streak, held the lead at the white flag, but Logano, helped by a push from Christopher Bell, ran past Keselowski on the outside and took the lead for good. Following in the top five were Bell, Corey LaJoie (his best career finish) and Tyler Reddick, who ran well despite fighting an illness Sunday morning.
Early in his racing career, Logano ran Legends cars on the quarter-mile track along the AMS frontstretch, so finally scoring at the track in Cup racing produced an emotional moment. His father was the first one to his car after the win.
“(This is) so special to win Atlanta for me,” Logano said. “So many memories of me and my dad racing right here on the quarter mile. This is the full circle for us. So many memories gritting over there with the Legends car, racing, having a big time. Dreaming of going straight at the quarter-mile and going on to the big track. That was always the dream to do it. To finally win here means so much to me here personally, but the team.
“This thing was an animal. Very, very fast. Able to lead a ton of laps, race really hard there at the end, get a good push from the 20 (Bell) to clear myself. Enough of a push to get in.”
The win was the 32nd of Logano’s career but his first at Atlanta. He led 140 laps to Keselowski’s 47, and they raced side-by-side over the closing laps.
“I know Brad really well on and off the racetrack, right?,” Logano said. “I know he’s going to do anything to win a race. And rightfully so. I wouldn’t say our racing mentalities are very different. That’s why I feel like we get along well. We also sometimes have clashed on a track every now and then. Not very often.
“We both race really, really hard. So I felt like we were definitely going to duke it out. When I got to his outside, it was either he was going to wreck or we were going to just race and, hopefully, he was going to get the big push on the bottom. That was his only hope there. It just ultimately ended up working out fine.”
Although there were accidents, the race was much calmer than Saturday’s Craftsman Truck and Xfinity Series races at the track. Both of those races were plagued by accidents and numerous caution flags.
Leader Aric Almirola, running on older tires, lost control with 52 laps remaining Sunday when a tire exploded. He was hit by second-place Kyle Larson. Both cars suffered major damage, and Almirola and Larson left the race.
With 71 laps remaining, a multi-car crash began when leader Kevin Harvick lost control as Ross Chastain approached his rear bumper. As Harvick spun out of control, cars scrambled in the middle of the lead drafting pack. Chris Buescher‘s car spun and hit the inside wall. Chastain inherited the lead.
Austin Cindric finished first at the end of Stage 2. Reddick, Logano, Alex Bowman and William Byron followed Cindric to the finish line. Through two stages, Logano had led 135 laps. No other driver had led more than seven.
Logano, the pole winner, was the boss in the first stage, leading all 60 laps to score his first stage win of the season. He was followed by Cindric, Keselowski, Ryan Blaney and Denny Hamlin.
The race’s first caution flew only 11 laps into the race as Bubba Wallace hit the inside wall. After repairs, he returned to the race two laps down and in last place. He later lost another lap.
Stage 1 winner: Joey Logano
Stage 2 winner: Austin Cindric
Who had a good race: Joey Logano clearly had the dominant car over the first two stages and made a fine move on the last lap to win. … Brad Keselowski ran at or near the front all day and put himself in position to win over the final laps, finishing second. … Corey LaJoie ran well in the final stage and finished fourth, continuing a strong start to the season.
Who had a bad race: Bubba Wallace brought out the race’s first caution on Lap 11, losing control of his car and slamming the inside wall. He lost two laps. … William Byron came into the race with two consecutive wins but was among the drivers sidelined by a multi-car crash with 71 laps left. … Chris Buescher raced with the leaders but parked with heavy damage during the race’s fourth caution. … Aric Almirola’s team gambled with tire strategy, taking the lead in the final stage but eventually failing as Almirola whacked the wall and left the race.
Next: The Cup Series rolls on to Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas for a March 26 race (3:30 p.m. ET, Fox).