Key storylines for Atlanta


Atlanta Motor Speedway officials couldn’t have asked for more out of last Sunday’s Cup race at Road America.

Dawsonville, Georgia native and reigning Cup champion Chase Elliott was the winner in front of a hearty crowd that cajoled him into an additional victory burnout.

Now, Elliott returns to his home track, which is opening its grandstands to full capacity after running its March weekend with limited crowds under COVID-19 restrictions.

In the March Cup race at Atlanta, Elliott was eliminated by an engine failure. So as he comes home, he has some unfinished business.

Problem is, so does one of his Hendrick Motorsports teammates – the one that’s arguably been the standard-bearer of the series since May.

Larson’s revenge?

Kyle Larson dominated in March at Atlanta, sweeping both stages and leading a race-high 269 laps. But with a great long-run car, Ryan Blaney emerged late and took the lead from Larson with nine laps to go before going on to win.

It was Larson’s second consecutive Atlanta race where he led the most laps but failed to win. In 2019, while driving for Chip Ganassi Racing, he led 142 laps at Atlanta before drawing a pit road speeding penalty while in the lead with around 100 laps to go. He settled for a 12th-place finish.

Doing the math, that’s 411 of 650 total laps led (63.2%) for Larson in his past two Atlanta appearances.

Larson should be a threat once again this weekend. While Atlanta is an outlier among 1.5-mile ovals due to its worn-out surface, Larson has been strong on this track type in 2021.

In five races held on 1.5-mile ovals this season, Larson is the only repeat winner (Las Vegas, Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte). He’s also earned four top-five finishes (tied for the most with Kyle Busch) and led the most laps (836) on this track type.

Off the latter note, Larson has led the most laps in the last four races on 1.5-mile ovals. Per Racing Insights, that ties a Cup record held by Hall of Famers Richard Petty and David Pearson.

“Rowdy” rolling along

After an up-and-down spring, Kyle Busch and his No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing team have found summer more to their liking.

Kyle Busch has posted three consecutive top-three finishes entering Atlanta: A runner-up and a win in the Pocono doubleheader, plus a third-place showing last week at Road America.

Going further, he’s posted five top-five finishes in the last six races. He’s also finished no worse than 11th in the last seven races.

He’s primed to keep the momentum going at Atlanta, where he’s posted four consecutive finishes of seventh or better.

Entering the March Atlanta Cup race, Kyle Busch had voiced frustrations about the team’s simulator set-ups not matching his car at the track, which in turn led to struggles early in races.

But Atlanta saw markedly improved performance from his No. 18 Toyota, which helped him overcome several mishaps (including a pit road speeding penalty) to finish fifth.

Fast-forward nearly four months later. While he and the rest of the Cup garage are still trying to slow down Hendrick Motorsports, the No. 18 team is much closer to where they want to be.

Playoff watch

With Tyler Reddick now more than a full race’s worth of points above the playoff cutline (15th, +75), the bubble focus is squarely on former Cup champ Kurt Busch and Chris Buescher entering Atlanta.

Kurt Busch holds the 16th and final playoff position by 25 points over Buescher with six regular season races to go.

The other drivers in the playoff picture frame – Ross Chastain in 18th (-69), Ricky Stenhouse Jr. in 19th (-70), and Matt DiBenedetto in 20th (-74) – are all more than a full race’s worth of points behind.

As the prospect of a surprise victory like Cole Custer’s last year at Kentucky hangs in the air, Kurt Busch needs to keep doing what he’s been doing.

With four top-10 finishes in the past five races, he’s gained 108 points on the cutline during that span to climb into playoff contention.

Kurt Busch has not won at Atlanta since 2010, but has posted five top-10 finishes in his last six there. The outlier, however, came this past March; a stack-up on a restart at Lap 113 ended with him getting pushed into the wall by Denny Hamlin.

As for Buescher, he remains in striking distance but has hit a rough patch at a bad time. He’s finished 16th or worse in his last five races.

However, Buescher notched a seventh-place finish at Atlanta in March and has also performed well on other low-grip tracks this season.

He earned a stage win before finishing 19th at Homestead-Miami, and turned in top 10 runs at Kansas (eighth) and Darlington (ninth).

NASCAR Power Rankings: William Byron, Kyle Busch rank 1-2


Kyle Busch moved closer to the top spot after his win Sunday at WWT Raceway, but William Byron keeps hold of No. 1 after another top-10 run.

The series heads to Sonoma Raceway this weekend, the second race of the season on a road course.


(Previous ranking in parenthesis)

1. William Byron (1) — He goes into Sonoma with six consecutive top-10 finishes after his eighth-place result at WWT Raceway. Byron has led a series-high 717 laps this season.

2. Kyle Busch (4) — Recorded his third win of the season Sunday. He is tied with Byron for most wins this year. Busch scored 59 of a maximum 60 points and won his first stage of the year Sunday. He has 16 playoff points. Only Byron has more with 17 this season.

3. Kyle Larson (3) — His fourth-place finish continued his up-and-down season. In the last nine races, Larson has two wins, four top fives, a 20th-place result and four finishes of 30th or worse. He has led 588 laps this season, which ranks second this year to Byron.

4. Martin Truex Jr. (2) — His fifth-place finish is his sixth top 10 in the last eight races. He ranks third in laps led this year with 383.

5. Denny Hamlin (7) — Runner-up result at WWT Raceway is his fourth top 10 in the last seven races.

6. Ryan Blaney (10) — Followed Coca-Cola 600 win with a sixth-place run at WWT Raceway. He had an average running position of 2.6 on Sunday, second only to winner Kyle Busch’s average running position of 1.9.

7. Joey Logano (9) — Third-place finish is his second top 10 in the last four races.

8. Kevin Harvick (NR) — His 10th-place finish is his fourth consecutive finish of 11th or better.

9. Ross Chastain (6) — Lost the points lead after placing 22nd, his third consecutive finish outside the top 20.

10. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (NR) — Headed for his eighth top 15 in a row until he was collected in a crash after the contact between Austin Cindric and Austin Dillon late in Sunday’s race.

Dropped out: Chase Elliott (5th), Tyler Reddick (8th)

NASCAR will not penalize Austin Cindric for incident with Austin Dillon


Despite Richard Childress and Austin Dillon saying that Austin Cindric intentionally wrecked Dillon late in Sunday’s Cup race at WWT Raceway, NASCAR will not penalize Cindric.

Elton Sawyer, NASCAR senior vice president of competition, said Tuesday on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio that there would be no penalty to Cindric after reviewing the contact.

Dillon and Childress were upset about the incident, which brought out the caution on Lap 220 of the 243-lap race. Dillon said NASCAR should suspend Cindric for the contact, just as NASCAR suspended Chase Elliott one race for hooking Denny Hamlin in the Coca-Cola 600.

Contact between the left front of Cindric’s car and the right rear of Dillon’s car sent Dillon up the track into Ricky Stenhouse Jr. Dillon finished 31st. Cindric continued and placed 13th.

Dillon told “I was wrecked intentionally by (Cindric), hooked right just like Chase and Denny and Bubba’s deal (in wrecking Kyle Larson at Las Vegas in 2022). He better be suspended next week.”

Childress said: “(Dillon) had drove up to about 10th until (Cindric) wrecked him in there on purpose, sort of a payback.”

Sawyer said a review of the incident included viewing video and data.

“We didn’t see anything — and haven’t seen anything — that really would rise to a level that would be a suspension or a penalty,” Sawyer said. “It looked like hard racing. One car coming up a little bit and another car going down.

“As we said last week, we take these incidents very serious when we see cars that are turned head-on into another car or head-on into the wall. I spent a lot of time (Monday) looking at that, looking at all the data, looking at TV footage and just deemed this one really hard racing.”

Sawyer said NASCAR plans to talk to both Cindric and Dillon “to make sure we’re all in a good place as we move forward to Sonoma.”



Seven Cup drivers entered in Xfinity race at Sonoma


Kyle Larson is among seven Cup drivers entered in Saturday’s Xfinity Series race at Sonoma Raceway.

The race marks the first time the Xfinity Series has competed at the California road course. Teams will get 50 minutes of practice Friday because this is a new event on the schedule. That additional time will give those Cup drivers more laps on the 1.99-mile road course.

MORE: Sonoma Xfinity entry list

Here is a look at what Xfinity rides the Cup drivers will pilot this weekend:

The race is scheduled to start at 8 p.m. ET Saturday.

The ARCA Menards Series West also is competing this weekend at Sonoma Raceway. Cup driver Ryan Preece is entered in that event. Xfinity drivers Cole Custer, Riley Herbst, Sammy Smith and Parker Retzlaff also are entered in that race, which will be held at 6:30 p.m. ET Friday.


Winners and losers at WWT Raceway


Winners and losers from Sunday’s Cup race at WWT Raceway:


Kyle BuschWins the pole, leads the most laps and holds the field off over the last five restarts to win the race. He scored six playoff points, giving him 16 on the season, second only to William Byron’s 17. Busch left Joe Gibbs Racing after last season for Richard Childress Racing. Busch’s three wins this year equals what JGR has done so far.

Ryan BlaneyHis sixth-place finish moved him into the points lead. He last led the points after the spring 2022 Richmond race. Blaney also won a stage Sunday to collect another playoff point. He has seven this season.

Kyle LarsonFourth-place finish was a big turnaround after struggles earlier in the race. It has not been easy for this team the last few weeks. He has three top-five finishes and four finishes of 20th or worse in the last seven races.

Daniel SuarezHis seventh-place finish moved him up two spots to 16th in the standings, the final playoff transfer spot at this time.


Ross ChastainHe finished 22nd for his third consecutive result outside the top 20. He entered the weekend leading the points and fell to fifth afterward. He is 29 points behind new series leader Ryan Blaney with 11 races left in the regular season.

Tyler ReddickRebounded from an early spin to lead but had his race end after a brake rotor failed. He was one of four drivers eliminated by brake rotor failures. The others were Carson Hocevar, Bubba Wallace and Noah Gragson.