HAMPTON, Ga. (AP) — Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski gave Atlanta and NASCAR a rare clean last-lap battle.
For a change there were no late wreck.
Just a clean finish between hard racers.
Logano dominated early and then passed Keselowski on the final lap to win NASCAR’s race at Atlanta Motor Speedway on Sunday and end the early season domination of Chevrolet and Hendrick Motorsports.
Logano won the pole and led a strong showing of three straight Team Penske drivers in qualifying, but Keselowski looked like the Ford driver to beat late in the race. Keselowski had help from Corey LaJoie, but Logano got a push from Christopher Bell that proved decisive on the final lap.
“It was lane versus lane, that’s what it was, inside versus outside,” Logano said, adding it was natural to expect that conflict would inevitably lead to contact.
“Yeah, because it happens just about every time,” Logano said of Cup drivers propensity to wreck late in races.
Bell finished third in a Toyota and LaJoie finished a career-best fourth in a Chevrolet.
“The first win of the season always feels better,” said Logano, the reigning Cup champion, who led 141 of the 260 laps.
Logano’s win ended a streak of four consecutive victories by Chevrolet to open the NASCAR Cup season, including back-to-back wins by William Byron of Hendrick.
Pushed by his Team Penske teammates Ryan Blaney and Austin Cindric, Logano passed Keselowski to regain the lead with 34 laps to go. Keselowski regained the lead to setup the last-lap drama.
“The bottom row came with a huge run,” said Keselowski. “I don’t know how and I thought I had it blocked and Joey just kept shaking and his car didn’t stall out. I couldn’t get the push down the back. We were right there. I’m glad a Ford won. It was a heck of a battle.”
It was Logano’s first win at the track he calls his second home. Logano is from Middletown, Connecticut. He calls NASCAR’s facility in Loudon, New Hampshire his home track, but Logano’s family moved to Georgia when he was a child. He competed in Legends races at Atlanta Motor Speedway as a child who dreamed of driving on the big track.
“We’ve been so close so many times here and to finally get a win here means so much,” he said.
After no cautions during the second stage, the competition — and crashes — picked up late in the race.
Kevin Harvick, who won in Atlanta in 2001, 2018 and 2020, was leading late when he lost control while being pushed by Ross Chastain. Replays indicated Chastain’s Chevrolet didn’t hit Harvick’s Ford, but Harvick’s spin caused a major crash.
“I think he was just so close to me he caught me right in the corner,” Harvick said of Chastain. “The way he came from right to left took the car away from me.”
Another wreck involving the leaders followed 20 laps later when Aric Almirola blew a tire, causing a spin that also took out Kyle Larson and Daniel Suarez.
Hendrick Motorsports’ four drivers had fill-in crew chiefs following the largest combined fine on one team in series history for modifying air-deflecting pieces last weekend at Phoenix Raceway. Hendrick was issued a combined $400,000 in fines along with four-race suspensions for the crew chiefs.
ELLIOTT PLANS JULY HOMECOMING
Chase Elliott, the Georgia native who won last summer’s race at his home track, continues to recover in Colorado from a broken tibia suffered while snowboarding month.
Elliott posted regrets on his Twitter account for being unable to participate in Sunday’s race: “This is gonna be a tough one today not being in atl for obvious reasons, but I can’t wait to see everyone down there in July!”
When Hendrick Motorsports tweeted to Elliott “Not the same without you here,” Elliott replied with hopes he would return “hopefully sooner than later my friends.”
NEW, LONGER PIT ROAD
The pit road entry has been moved to the start of turn 3 from the previous entry point at turn 4. That makes pit road much longer, about half the length of the 1.54-mile track. The longer pit road was designed to give drivers more time to decelerate instead of having to slow down while still on the track, creating possible wrecks.
Blaney was penalized for speeding off pit road in stage 2.
Chilly weather forced fans and drivers to bundle up. The temperature for the start of the race was 45 degrees, with wind adding to the chill. Harvick, wearing a hood, and other drivers complained about the cold weather while standing on the track and waiting for the race to begin.
ODDS AND ENDS
Atlanta Motor Speedway announced a multi-year contract extension with Quaker State for its July 9 race. Quaker State also will be the primary sponsor for Daniel Suarez’s car in Atlanta’s summer race as well as in Richmond on April 2. … Tyler Reddick started 16th and finished fifth after pre-race concerns he was sick and might not be able to compete in his Toyota. Reddick was excused from the pre-race drivers’ meeting. John Hunter Nemechek, who finished eighth in Saturday night’s Xfinity race, was available to fill in if Reddick couldn’t complete the race.
The NASCAR Cup series moves to Austin, Texas and the Circuit of the Americas next Sunday. Chastain scored his first career Cup win on the road course last year.
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