William Byron fended off fierce charges late to win an eventful race at the newly reconfigured Atlanta Motor Speedway on Sunday afternoon.
After tying the track record with 11 cautions, the final restart came with 13 laps remaining. Byron controlled the inside lane on the front row with help from Erik Jones, Daniel Suarez and Christopher Bell. Byron, who led a race-high 111 laps, cleared Bubba Wallace in the outside lane and pulled high.
On the final lap, Chastain pulled to the inside of Wallace and into second place. Ryan Blaney attempted to push Wallace through Turns 1 and 2 but they and Chase Briscoe found themselves scraping the outside wall. That allowed Byron, Chastain and Bell to charge ahead to the checkered flag.
MORE: Atlanta results, points
MORE: What drivers said
At the checkered flag, Byron was ahead of Bell by 0.141 seconds while Wallace, Justin Haley and Chris Buescher crashed hard behind them. Bell, however, was penalized by NASCAR for passing Chastain for second on the backstretch beneath the double-line on the inside of the track, a boundary rule typically only seen at Daytona and Talladega. Bell was relegated to a 23rd-place finish, the final car on the lead lap.
“It was so different,” Byron told Fox Sports. “You know honestly the last few laps there, just trying to manage the gap to Bubba (Wallace) and trying to not get too far out front. My spotter Brandon (Lines), it’s his first win so congrats to him and just thanks to this whole team. They’ve done a great job this year. There’s a lot of changes with the Next Gen car.”
Byron’s win is the third of his career and first of 2022. Hendrick Motorsports has now seen three of its four drivers hit Victory Lane this season, including Kyle Larson‘s victory at Auto Club Speedway and Alex Bowman‘s triumph at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
Sunday’s race featured 46 lead changes, a track record and most this season. It was the first race held on Atlanta’s new configuration which featured higher banking in the corners, wider straightaways and tighter turns to emulate superspeedway-style racing.
The event was filled with side-by-side pack racing and multi-car accidents, including a 13-car crash at Lap 145 which collected then-leader Tyler Reddick, Kurt Busch, Bell, Kyle Larson, Joey Logano and others.
Three Chevrolet drivers suffered right-rear tire failures while leading, including Reddick, Stenhouse and Chastain. Greg Stucker, Goodyear’s director of racing, said Sunday the company was not seeing concerns in tire wear and said the tires that failed were “overloaded and over deflected.”
Goodyear's Greg Stucker stopped by the media center and said they're collecting right rears that went down by leading cars — Chastain, Reddick and Stenhouse.
"Tires were overloaded and over deflected."
He cited the common theme of one manufacturer. Said wear wasn't an issue. pic.twitter.com/YNWCOODtpG
— Matt Weaver (@MattWeaverRA) March 20, 2022
Two cautions in the final 25 laps set up a frantic dash to the finish. Rookie Todd Gilliland scrubbed the wall and spun at the exit of Turn 2 on Lap 300. While trying to avoid the melee, Cody Ware was tagged from behind and slammed the inside wall head-on. All drivers were checked and released from the infield care center.
On the ensuing restart, Aric Almirola was running inside second on the inside lane when contact from Chastain sent him sliding through the infield grass to bring out the afternoon’s final caution flag.
Following Bell’s penalty, the top five behind Byron was completed by Chastain, Kurt Busch, Suarez and Corey LaJoie, who notches his first career top five. Chase Elliott, Buescher, Martin Truex Jr., Joey Logano and Alex Bowman completed the top 10.
There were no issues in post-race inspection. The Nos. 6 and 9 cars will be taken to the NASCAR R&D Center for further teardown.
Stage 1 winner: William Byron
Stage 2 winner: Ryan Blaney
Who had a good race: Ross Chastain‘s second-place finish is his third consecutive top-three finish. The No. 1 Chevrolet rallied from a flat right-rear tire while leading at Lap 95 and contacting the outside wall in Turn 2. Chastain lost two laps, but was in position for the free pass and got back on the lead lap in consecutive cautions midway through the second stage. … Bubba Wallace has found a knack for being in position to win at superspeedways. His No. 23 Toyota was second at the white flag before a push from Ryan Blaney went awry in Turn 1. Matters worsened at the checkered flag when Haley and Buescher collected him in a crash, relegating Wallace to 13th.
Who had a bad race: Austin Dillon crashed out at Lap 102 after contact from Kyle Busch exiting Turn 4. Dillon was running third in the outside lane before getting hit and losing control, ending the race with a wrecked No. 3 Chevrolet for the second week in a row after Daniel Suarez sent him into the wall in Phoenix. Dillon, along with brother Ty Dillon, finished 35th and 36th respectively. Ty Dillon had finished inside the top 20 in each of the first four races this year. … Kyle Larson was involved in multiple crashes Sunday, including a day-ender at Lap 210 after contact from Denny Hamlin sent both drivers into the wall. Larson finished 30th while Hamlin finished 29th, still in search of his first top-10 finish of 2022.
Noteable: Byron’s win is the 11th consecutive victory for drivers under the age of 30. … Thirty-one of 37 drivers were involved in an accident on Sunday. … Sunday’s 20 different leaders were another track record.
Next race: The Cup Series heads to Circuit of the Americas for its first road course of the year on March 27 (3:30 p.m., Fox)