William Byron wins chaotic Cup race at new Atlanta Motor Speedway

1 Comment

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.”

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)

NASCAR Clash heat race lineups


LOS ANGELES — Justin Haley, Kyle Busch, Christopher Bell and William Byron will start on the pole for their heat races Sunday at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. 

There will be nine cars in each of the four heat races. Here’s a look at each of the those heat races.

Clash heat race starting lineups

Heat 1

This heat has four drivers who did not make last year’s Clash: Alex Bowman, Aric Almirola, Chris Buescher and Ty Dillon. Almirola starts second, Bowman third, Buescher eighth and Dillon ninth. This heat also has defending Clash winner and reigning Cup champion Joey Logano, who starts fifth.

Heat 2

Richard Childress Racing teammates Busch and Austin Dillon start 1-2. This race has five former champions: Busch, Kyle Larson (starting third), Kevin Harvick (fourth), Martin Truex Jr. (fifth) and Chase Elliott (eighth).

Heat 3

Toyota drivers will start first (Bell), second (Denny Hamlin) and fifth (Tyler Reddick). Ryan Blaney starts last in this heat after his fastest qualifying lap was disallowed Saturday.

Heat 4 

Byron will be joined on the front row by AJ Allmendinger in this heat. The second row will have Ross Chastain and Bubba Wallace.

The top five in each heat advances to Sunday night’s Clash. Those not advancing go to one of two last chance qualifying races. The top three in each of those races advances to the Clash. The 27 and final spot in the Clash is reserved for the driver highest in points who has yet to make the field.

Justin Haley tops field in Clash qualifying


LOS ANGELES — Justin Haley posted the fastest lap in Saturday’s qualifying for the Busch Light Clash at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.

Haley will start the first of four heats on the pole after a lap of 67.099 mph (13.413 seconds). The four heat races will be held Sunday afternoon, followed by two last chance qualifying races and then the Busch Clash on Sunday night.

Clash qualifying results

“I feel pretty confident about where we are,” Haley said. “I’m not sure why we’re so good here.”

The top four qualifiers will start on the pole for their heat race.

Kyle Busch, who was second on the speed chart with a lap of 66.406 mph, will start on the pole for the second heat. That comes in his first race with Richard Childress Racing after having spent the past 15 seasons at Joe Gibbs Racing.

Christopher Bell, third on the speed chart with a lap of 66.328 mph, will start on the pole for the third heat. William Byron, fourth in qualifying with a lap of 66.196 mph, will start on the pole in the fourth heat race.

The pole-sitters for each of the four heat races last year all won their heat. That included Haley, who was third fastest in qualifying last year and won the third heat from the pole.

Ty Gibbs was not allowed to qualify because of unapproved adjustments his team made while making repairs to his car after the door foam caught fire during practice. NASCAR deemed that the Joe Gibbs Racing team made adjustments to the car not directly related to the damage.

Ryan Blaney‘s fastest qualifying lap was disallowed after he stopped the car in Turn 4 and turned it around and to go back to the backstretch and build speed for his final lap. NASCAR disallowed the time from that final lap for the maneuver.

Section 7.8.F of the Cup Rule Book states: “Unless otherwise determined by the Series Managing Director, drivers who encounter a problem during Qualifying will not be permitted to travel counter Race direction.”

The top five finishers in each of the four 25-lap heat races advance to the Clash. The top three in the two 50-lap last chance races move on to the Clash. The final spot in the 27-car field is reserved for the driver highest in points not yet in the field.

Chase Briscoe, AJ Allmendinger in first on-track conflict of the season.


LOS ANGELES — The first on-track conflict of the 2023 NASCAR Cup season?

Did you have Chase Briscoe and AJ Allmendinger?

They made contact during Saturday night’s practice session at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum for the Busch Light Clash.

Busch Clash practice results

Briscoe explained what happened from his point of view.

“(Allmendinger) was slowing down so much on the straightaway to get a gap (away from other cars),” Briscoe told Motor Racing Network. “I felt like I was beside him pretty far down the straightaway. I got in there a little hot for sure, but, honestly, I thought he was going to give it to me since we were in practice. Went into (Turn) 3 and he just drove me straight into the fence. Definitely frustrating. … Just unfortunate. We don’t have a single back-up car out there between the four of us at SHR. 

“Definitely will set us behind quite a bit. Just chalk it up in the memory blank.”

Asked what happened with Briscoe, Allmendinger told MRN: “He ran inside of me, so I made sure I paid him back and sent him into the fence.

“It’s practice. I get it, I’m struggling and in the way, but come barreling in there. I just showed my displeasure for it. That’s not the issue. We’re just not very good right now.”

Earlier in practice, Ty Gibbs had to climb out of his car after it caught on fire. Gibbs exiting the car safely. The Joe Gibbs Racing team worked on making repairs to his No. 54 car. NASCAR stated that the car would not be allowed to qualify because of unapproved adjustments, modifications not directly related to the damage.

NASCAR will not race at Auto Club Speedway in 2024


LOS ANGELES — Auto Club Speedway will not host a NASCAR race next year because of plans to convert the 2-mile speedway into a short track.

It will mark only the second time the Cup Series has not raced at the Southern California track since first competing there in 1997. Cup did not race at the track in 2021 because of the pandemic.

Dave Allen, Auto Club Speedway president, also said Saturday that “it’s possible” that the track might not host a NASCAR race in 2025 because of how long it could take to make the conversion. 

MORE: Details for Sunday’s Clash at the Coliseum 

NASCAR came to the Fontana, California, track during the sport’s expansion in the late 1990s that also saw Cup debut at Texas (1997), Las Vegas (1998) and Homestead (1999).

Auto Club Speedway begins the West Coast swing this season, hosting the Cup Series on Feb. 26, a week after the Daytona 500. The series then goes to Las Vegas and Phoenix the following two weeks.

Auto Club Speedway has been among a favorite of drivers because of its aging pavement that put more of the car’s control in the hands of competitors. 

Allen said that officials continue to work on the track’s design. It is expected to be a half-mile track. With NASCAR already having a half-mile high-banked track (Bristol) and half-mile low-banked track (Martinsville), Allen said that a goal is to make Auto Club Speedway stand out.

“It has to make a statement, and making sure that we have a racetrack that is unique to itself here and different than any of the tracks they go to is very important,” Allen said. “Having said that, it’s equally important … to make sure that the fan experience part is unique.”

Kyle Larson, who won last year’s Cup race at Auto Club Speedway, said that he talked to Allen on Saturday was told the track project likely will take about 18 months. 

“I don’t know exactly the extent of what they’re doing with the track, how big it’s going to be, the shape or banking and all that, and I love the 2-mile track, but I think the more short tracks we can have, the better off our sport is going to be,” Larson said.

With Auto Club Speedway off the schedule in 2024, it would mean the only time Cup raced in the Los Angeles area would be at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. NASCAR has a three-year contract with the Coliseum to race there and holds the option to return.

Sunday’s Busch Light Clash at the Coliseum marks the second year of that agreement. Last year’s inaugural event at the Coliseum drew about 50,000 fans. NASCAR has not publicly stated if it will return to the Coliseum next year.