After probably scrambling to set their clocks for Daylight Savings Time, then having to set them back after remembering Arizona is the only state that doesn’t have Daylight Savings, Ryan Blaney and Denny Hamlin led the field to green in the Ruoff Mortgage 500.
Any concerns about the new rear diffusers handling the transition through the dogleg were immediately put to rest, as Kyle Busch turned his #18 DeWalt Camry hard left on the start, cutting the dogleg and making up two positions by turn one.
Ryan Blaney stretched out his lead until the lap 25 competition caution, but he and second-place Hamlin were booked for speeding on pit road and forced to restart from the rear, leaving Joey Logano’s Pennzoil Mustang out front after a two-tire gamble.
Chase Briscoe got past Logano almost immediately on the restart and built a gap as Logano held off the rest of the top five. Kyle Busch and Austin Dillon tangled but both kept their cars pointed forward, and thanks to the Gen-7 composite bodies, all eight Goodyears kept their air.
But Corey Lajoie was less lucky when he hit the wall in the dogleg on lap 47, knocking the center-lock lug off his right front and sending the #7 Camaro’s wheel and tire bouncing across the frontstretch, right into the path of the #51 of Cody Ware. Caution came out, and Lajoie went to the garage.
On the restart, William Byron went way low in one and two to take the lead as the field went four- and five-wide behind him, a lead he would hold for the rest of the first stage. Though Chase Elliott’s crew got the #9 car off pit road first, four drivers including Blaney and Kyle Busch stayed out on old tires to start stage two.
Blaney’s tire gamble put a wrench in the works for the rest of the field. In clean air, the #12 Ford was able to run away from the pack, opening up a significant gap while the rest of the top five tried to work around the #18. But as the laps clicked by, Chase Elliott’s 15-lap-newer tires brought him closer and closer to the rear panel of the Menards car.
Blaney was able to manage the deficit in lapped traffic until Christopher Bell spun in turn two, blowing a right-rear but managing to avoid any more serious damage. Chase certainly didn’t care. His pit crew showed up again and got him the lead on pit road.
Blaney kept his faster car right in Elliott’s tracks, and when he saw an opening, gave his buddy a little nudge in the center of the corner and blew past him, retaking the top spot that he’d held for most of the day. While Elliott closed in over the ensuing long run, Blaney held him off just long enough to score the victory in stage two.
Once again, the UniFirst #9 pit crew got Elliott back on track with the lead. He maintained the lead on the restart, but second-place Kevin Harvick was less lucky, spinning the tires and letting Tyler Reddick and Ryan Blaney past. Both Reddick and Blaney took shots at Elliott, but they settled out running one-two-three until a blown tire sent Martin Truex Jr. hard into the SAFER barrier at the exit of turn two and causing the caution.
Though the #9 crew continued to deliver on Pit Road, there was a big shakeup behind him, with Briscoe, Ross Chastain, and Kevin Harvick gaining at the expense of Blaney and Reddick. It was Chase vs. Chase on the restart, and the less experienced of the two came out on top. Throwing the #14 car around the bottom of one and two gave Chase Briscoe the lead.
Chase chased Chase throughout the long green-flag run in the middle of stage three, with Briscoe barely holding off Elliott as the two split lapped traffic. Unfortunately for the Indiana native, the second late-race caution for an Erik Jones crash in as many races meant two things: another pit stop and another restart.
On the money stop, Chase Elliott’s luck finally ran out. His crew, who had been the class of the field all day, lost him five positions, letting Briscoe, Harvick, Chastain, Blaney, and Reddick all restart in front of him. Restarting with 20 laps to go, Briscoe chose the bottom while his experienced Stewart-Haas teammate took the top.
Into turn one, it was Briscoe-Reddick-Chastain three-wide for the lead, and the #14 barely held onto the top spot as first the #1 and then the #8 tried to get past. He’d just settled in to a half-second lead when Chase Elliott lost the rear end of his Camaro, bringing out the caution inside of ten to go.
Three laps to go. Briscoe, Chastain, Blaney inside, Reddick, Harvick, Austin Dillon on the top. Everybody threw it down the dogleg, and Briscoe came out the other side with the lead. From then, it was smooth sailing, as Chastain and Reddick battled each other for second. Crossing the finish line on lap 312, Chase Briscoe became the 200th different winner in the history of the NASCAR Cup Series, and the second first-time winner in four races this season.
Ross Chastain came home second, bettering his result from one week ago. Tyler Reddick placed third. On lap 311, none of these three drivers had ever won a NASCAR Cup race. One lap later, one of them has, but with the performances Chastain and Reddick have put in so far, their first checkered flags can’t be far away either—and next week, at the new-look Atlanta Motor Speedway, anyone could pull it off.
Featured image from @StewartHaasRcng on Twitter