Atlanta winners and losers


A look at the winners and losers following Sunday’s NASCAR Cup Series race at Atlanta Motor Speedway


William ByronByron became the third driver from Hendrick Motorsports’ four-car stable to win in the past four races courtesy of his win at Atlanta. In a race that was statistically unpredictable — there were a track-record 46 different lead changes among 20 drivers, another track record — Byron proved to be the one constant. The No. 24 Chevrolet paced the field for a race-high 111 of 325 laps, controlling the field from the front when despite multiple late restarts. Byron’s year began with DNFs at both Daytona and Auto Club, but his rebounds since have been decent, finishing fifth at Las Vegas and 18th at Phoenix. This victory gives Byron wins in each of the past three seasons, including triumphs at Daytona in August 2020 and Homestead-Miami in February 2021.

Ross ChastainHow impressive has Chastain been? His second-place finish Sunday is his second straight runner-up result and third consecutive top-three effort. Chastain scored three top fives during the entire 2021 season. He’s already tied that mark within five races in 2022, all while competing for Trackhouse Racing, which is in the midst of its first year as a two-car program. This hot streak might not soon be over. Chastain scored a fourth-place finish at Circuit of the Americas last year, and the series heads there next.

Kurt BuschSomehow, someway, Kurt Busch keeps clicking off solid runs. Even though he was involved in a Lap-145 crash that began when Tyler Reddick spun from the lead, Busch managed to finish third, collecting his second consecutive top-five finish for 23XI Racing. Busch has yet to finish outside the top 20 in five races, his worst finish coming in the season-opening Daytona 500 where he finished 19th. The 2004 Cup Series champion was expected to make 23XI Racing better in its second year. His consistency is already adding a significant boost to the second-year organization, which also expanded to two cars over the offseason.

Corey LaJoie: At different points Sunday, LaJoie’s day seemed to be over. The most significant moment, of course, came during the Big One at Lap 145 when his No. 7 Chevrolet slid backward through the frontstretch grass, the result of contact from a spinning Kyle Larson while LaJoie tried to escape the melee. Despite the slide, LaJoie rallied for a fifth-place finish, his best result in 193 combined national series starts. His third top-15 finish of 2022 is also a nice way to ease the pain of losing crew chief Ryan Sparks for four races following a penalty after Phoenix.

Chase ElliottFor the first time since winning the 2020 championship, Elliott is the Cup Series points leader. Elliott’s sixth-place finish Sunday is his best of the season as he remains the lone Hendrick driver without a victory through five races. How he’s done it is what’s most remarkable. His three top 10s have been valuable, but more critical are the 42 stage points Elliott has earned through the first five races, all without having actually won a stage. The only driver in the series with more stage points is Byron (55), who won Stage 1 Sunday. The series shifts to Circuit of the Americas next weekend, where Elliott won Cup’s inaugural event at the Texas road course in 2021.


Christopher Bell: Bell was the second driver across the finish line Sunday but was sent back to 23rd in the final rundown, the last car on the lead lap. That was the penalty for going beneath the double-lined boundary on the inside lane while passing Ross Chastain for second place on the final lap. The No. 20 team was in serious need of a good run and its driver seemingly delivered. But the move below the line, a rule implemented for the first time outside of Daytona and Talladega, eliminates what would have been Bell’s first top five of 2022. Instead, Bell leaves Atlanta with his fourth finish outside the top 20 in five races and sits 30th in points.

Bubba WallaceFor the third consecutive superspeedway-style race, Wallace found himself in contention to win on the final lap. Unfortunately, unlike his victory at Talladega in 2021 or runner-up effort in this year’s Daytona 500, Wallace wound up wrecking at the checkered flag and finished 13th. The No. 23 Toyota was second at the white flag, but Chastain charged to his inside and forced Wallace to stay high. A push from Chase Briscoe to Ryan Blaney sent Blaney into Wallace, ruining the momentum in their lane. Wallace was then a victim at the stripe when Chris Buescher and Justin Haley collected him in a vicious crash. The result is still Wallace’s best since Daytona, but there are lots of what-could-have-beens for him leaving Atlanta.

Aric AlmirolaAlmriola hadn’t finished worse than 12th all season and found himself inside the top five with less than 20 laps to go. But just as quickly as he’d gotten there, Almirola was sent spinning through the grass on the front straightaway after contact from behind courtesy of Ross Chastain. Almirola was able to keep rolling without significant damage, but the No. 10 Ford crossed the line 22nd, the team’s first finish outside the top 20 in Almirola’s farewell tour.

Denny HamlinWhen will Hamlin’s year start turning around? The answer needs to be found quickly. After three consecutive seasons in the Championship 4, the No. 11 team is desperate just to finish within the top 10. Hamlin has failed to finish three of the year’s first five events, including Sunday in Atlanta after being involved in two crashes. Hamlin admitted after the race that he’s “just making some bad decisions” behind the wheel that has put his entire team in a bind. The season is young and Hamlin will likely find his way. But sitting 26th in points can’t be comfortable for him, especially watching the two 23XI Racing cars he co-owns sit fifth (Kurt Busch) and 18th (Wallace).

Kyle BuschBusch had done a masterful job of maximizing his results through each of the season’s first four races. But contact with Austin Dillon at Lap 102 sent Busch into the wall and triggered a multi-car accident, breaking suspension pieces in the No. 18 Toyota that eventually made the car undriveable. Busch finished 33rd, his first DNF of the season. Busch was a detractor of the superspeedway-style ideas being brought to Atlanta from its launch and maintained that stance Sunday. Hard to blame him after freefalling nine spots in the points standings to 11th place this week.

Dr. Diandra: Is 2023 the season for a Ricky Stenhouse Jr. redemption?


Coming into 2022, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. had two career Cup Series wins in 364 starts. But both wins — and his career-high 13th-place season finish — happened back in 2017.

Stenhouse was unceremoniously dropped by Roush Fenway Racing in 2020 and landed with JTG Daugherty Racing. He made the news every now and then at a superspeedway but could be counted upon to head up season-ending lists of drivers involved in the most accidents. In the years Stenhouse hasn’t been at the top of the list, he’s been near the top.

DNFs and accidents have plagued Stenhouse throughout his NASCAR career. Jack Roush went so far as to park the Mississippi native in his early days in the Xfinity Series because he tore up so much equipment.

Stenhouse redeemed himself, going on to win two Xfinity championships.

From the way his 2023 season has started, it looks as though Stenhouse might be on a similar mission of redemption this year in the Cup Series.

Finishing races

Stenhouse started the 2023 season in the best possible way – winning the Daytona 500. But drivers from less-funded teams who win early superspeedway races usually settle to the bottom of the rankings by now.

Stenhouse hasn’t. He ranks 13th heading into Sunday’s race at World Wide Technology Raceway.

Standings aren’t as good a ruler this year as they usually are because of drivers missing races and teams incurring penalties. But Stenhouse’s statistics back up his ranking.

Stenhouse has finished every race this year on track, as opposed to in the garage or on the hook. Only Ryan Blaney and Corey LaJoie have achieved the same distinction.

In 11 of those 14 races, Stenhouse finished on the lead lap. That’s the same number of lead-lap finishes as William Byron. Denny Hamlin and Martin Truex Jr. are tied for most races finished on the lead lap with 13 each.

This time last year, Stenhouse had already racked up seven of the series-leading 18 caution-causing incidents he would be involved in for the season. Runner-up Chase Elliott had 15 incidents.

Going into Gateway this year, Stenhouse has been involved in only two accidents (Talladega and Charlotte) and had a tire go out at Darlington.

Approaching his career best

I compare three years in Stenhouse’s career in the table below: the 2017 season — his best to date — along with last year and the 14 races run so far this year.

A table comparing loop data stats for Ricky Stenhouse Jr. showing his path to redemption

Stenhouse’s current average finishing position of 13.5 ties with Christopher Bell for sixth best in the Cup Series. That’s 9.3 positions better than Stenhouse’s 2022 average. He’s even beating his 2017 average by 3.6 positions.

Qualifying results are down a bit from 2017 — but remember that those numbers are from the days when NASCAR allowed multiple practice sessions. Stenhouse is only two positions worse relative to 2017, but 7.6 positions better than last year when it comes to establishing his spot on the starting grid.

Stenhouse’s average running position is comparable to 2017 and 2.8 positions better than 2022. He ranks 20th among full-time Cup Series drivers in average running position. Although it’s an improvement, it’s still more than double William Byron’s series-leading 9.1 average running position this year.

More interesting is the difference between Stenhouse’s average running position his average finishing position. Some drivers run better than they finish. Stenhouse is doing the opposite.

In 2017, Stenhouse finished about 1.4 positions better than he ran. This year, he’s gaining an average of about five positions from where he runs.

One might argue this gain results from the plethora of late-race incidents this year that have removed drivers in the front of the field from contention. But Stenhouse deserves credit for putting himself in a position to benefit from those events.

Stenhouse’s green-flag speed rank is 11th among full-time Cup Series drivers. His 15.3 average, however, is 1.7 positions worse than 10th-place Kyle Busch. Still, it’s impressive that JTG Daugherty is right there in the mix with much better-funded teams. William Byron again has the best average green-flag speed rank at 7.9.

Consistently strong finishes

It’s not uncommon for a mid-pack driver to win a superspeedway race. But Stenhouse’s Daytona 500 win appears to be something more. The table below summarizes his wins and finishes for the same three years.

A table comparing finishes for 2017, 2022 and 2023 showing Ricky Stenhouse Jr's redemption attemptsThe difference between last year and this year is striking.

In 2022, Stenhouse finished in the top 20 in 12 of 36 races. He’s already matched that mark this year. He earns top-20 finishes 85.7% of the time in 2023 compared to 33.3% last year. Top-20 finishes aren’t the same as contending for a championship. But they’re a first step.

Stenhouse finished 2017 with nine top-10 races. With about 60% of the season remaining, he’s already earned five top-10 finishes this year.

What’s changed? The Next Gen car is one factor, but it didn’t make much difference for Stenhouse last year. I would point instead to Stenhouse’s reunion with Mike Kelley as his crew chief.

Kelley co-piloted both of Stenhouse’s Xfinity championships in 2011 and ’12. Although Kelley worked with Stenhouse and previous crew chief Brian Pattie since 2020, this is the first year Kelley is back up on the pit box.

Together, they’re basically halfway to matching Stenhouse’s best year.

And another step closer to redemption.

Portland Xfinity race results, driver points

Portland Xfinity results
Photo by James Gilbert/Getty Images

Cole Custer went from fourth to first on the overtime restart when the top three cars made contact and went on to win Saturday’s Xfinity Series race at Portland International Raceway. Custer is the 10th different winner in 13 races this season.

MORE: Portland Xfinity race results

MORE: Driver points after Portland Xfinity race

JR Motorsports took the next three spots: Justin Allgaier placed second, Sam Mayer was third and Josh Berry was fourth. Austin Hill completed the top five.

John Hunter Nemechek remains the points leader after 13 races. He has a 14-point lead on Hill. Nemechek leads Allgaier by 44 points.

Cole Custer wins Xfinity race at Portland in overtime


Cole Custer held off Justin Allgaier at the finish to win Saturday’s Xfinity Series race in overtime at Portland International Raceway. It is Custer’s first victory of the season.

JR Motorsports placed second, third and fourth with Allgaier, Sam Mayer and Josh Berry. Austin Hill finished fifth.

MORE: Race results, driver points

Custer went from fourth to first on the overtime restart when Parker Kligerman, who restarted third, attempted to pass Allgaier, who was leading. Sheldon Creed was on the outside of Allgaier. All three cars made contact entering Turn 1, allowing Custer to slip by. Creed finished seventh. Kligerman placed 14th.

Custer won the second stage when John Hunter Nemechek made contact with Creed’s car while racing for the lead on the final lap of the stage. The contact spun Creed and Custer inched by Nemechek at the line.

Early in the final stage, Creed gained revenge with contact that spun Nemechek, who went on to finish 10th. A few laps later, Nemechek and Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Sammy Smith had issues. Smith spun Nemechek. After getting back around, Nemechek quickly caught Smith and turned into Smith’s car, damaging it.

STAGE 1 WINNER: Sheldon Creed

STAGE 2 WINNER: Cole Custer

WHO HAD A GOOD RACE: Despite the contact on the overtime restart, runner-up Justin Allgaier managed to score his fourth consecutive top-three finish. … Sam Mayer’s third-place finish is his best on a road course. … Austin Hill’s fifth-place finish gives him four consecutive top-five results.

WHO HAD A BAD RACE: Daniel Hemric finished 33rd after a fire in his car. … Riley Herbst placed 32nd after an engine issue. After opening the season with six top 10s in a row, Herbst has gone seven races in a row without a top 10.

NEXT: The series competes June 10 at Sonoma Raceway (8 p.m. ET on FS1).

Truck race results at WWT Raceway: Grant Enfinger wins


Grant Enfinger took the lead when the leaders wrecked in the final laps and held off the field in overtime to win Saturday’s Craftsman Truck Series race at World Wide Technology Raceway.

It is Enfinger’s second win in the last five races. He also collected a $50,000 bonus for winning the Triple Truck Challenge.

MORE: Truck race results

MORE: Driver points after WWT Raceway

Christian Eckes finished second and was followed by Stewart Friesen, Carson Hocevar and Chase Purdy.

Ty Majeski and Zane Smith wrecked while racing for the lead with six laps to go. Majeski, running on the inside of Smith, slid up the track and clipped Smith’s truck. Both hit the wall. That put Enfinger in the lead.

Smith finished 20th. Majeski placed 30th.

STAGE 1 WINNER: Grant Enfinger

STAGE 2 WINNER: Stewart Friesen

WHO HAD A GOOD RACE: Grant Enfinger’s victory is his fourth top 10 in the last five races. … Carson Hocevar’s fourth-place finish is his fourth consecutive top-five result. … Stewart Friesen’s third-place finish moved him into a playoff spot with four races left in the regular season. … Matt DiBenedetto‘s sixth-place finish is his third consecutive top 10. … Jesse Love finished ninth in his series debut.

WHO HAD A BAD RACE: Ty Majeski had a chance to take the points lead with series leader Corey Heim out because of illness, but Majeski’s 30th-place finish after running at the front most of the day, leaves him behind Heim. … Hailie Deegan finished 32nd after contact sent her truck into the wall hard. … After finishing a career-high third last week at Charlotte, Dean Thompson placed 34th Saturday due to an engine issue.

NEXT: The series races June 23 at Nashville Superspeedway (8 p.m. ET on FS1)