March Madness at Atlanta: Byron Survives and Advances to Victory Lane

Okay, so maybe this Atlanta reconfiguration wasn’t such a bad idea.

Despite pleas from drivers and fans alike, SMI went ahead with the much maligned idea to turn Atlanta into a 1.5 mile super speedway. Whether you liked what you saw Sunday in the Folds of Honor Quiktrip 500 or not, you can’t say it wasn’t entertaining.

After a day that consisted of 46 lead changes, intense bumper to bumper pack racing, and attrition, William Byron brought home his third career win, holding off a hard charging Ross Chastain and Christopher Bell. It was also Hendrick Motorsports’ third win of the season.

“Lots of changes with the Next Gen. The 24 Chevrolet was awesome there. Worked hard overnight,” said an exhausted Byron, “Had a pretty rough practice and worked hard on it and got it handling well, like I told you. It was kind of an intermediate style with a little bit of speedway into it, so a lot of fun.”

Ross Chastain and Team Trackhouse continue to be the most improved team this week, nabbing his second straight runner up finish. Chastain was leading at one point in the race and blew a right rear tire, causing him to hit the wall. The resulting contact made it difficult to fuel the car and Chastain lost two laps because of it. But his team rallied and got the #1 Chevrolet back into position to win. Chastain’s teammate Daniel Suarez finished fourth. 

Mark my words, Trackhouse is going to win a race very, very soon.

Kurt Busch nabbed his first podium finish with a third place run in his Monster Energy Toyota. He too was involved in an incident earlier in the race, when Ricky Stenhouse blew a right rear tire while leading. The 23XI team fought hard and even though Bubba Wallace crashed at the end of the race, he was in position to win too. 

The most feel good story of the race was that of the 5th place finisher. Corey Lajoie, in his second season with Spire Motorsports, notched the first top 5 of his career. Lajoie hasn’t even sniffed the top 10 this season, so it was a great run for the charismatic second generation driver. 

Speaking of second generation drivers, even though he still hasn’t won on an oval since 2020, Chase Elliott leaves Atlanta with the points lead. Georgia’s favorite son finished sixth after a relatively mundane race for him. While he did have some minor contact with Kyle Larson during a crash that also took out Denny Hamlin, it didn’t affect the NAPA #9 at all, and he led a lot of laps while putting on a good show. Look for the 9 car to be strong at COTA next week, as always.

I’m sure by now you’re saying, “Wait, Garrett, you said Christopher Bell had a shot at the win at the end?”

Well he did, but on the final trip down the backstretch, Bell went below the red line, which is out of bounds. NASCAR penalized the 20 and relegated him to a 23rd place finish. Bell’s JGR teammates Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr. were both involved in incidents. Busch gave another classic post race interview after he parked the 18 Toyota for the day. Using only “yep”, “nope”, and “mhm” to answer questions about Atlanta’s new layout.

Overall Joe Gibbs Racing continues to struggle, as Denny Hamlin – a perennial championship contender – doesn’t even have a top 10 finish 5 races into the season. 

As we wrap up a wild race at Atlanta I just want to end by saying that I enjoyed what I saw out of the new layout. I was literally dreading every time someone would get sideways in front of my driver, or my driver would make a bold move to try and get to the front. Was it perfect? Of course not. Very few things in life ever are. But I think we should be patient and see what happens in the future with this track. Perhaps it will take a special place in many hearts like Talladega and Daytona.

If you didn’t like what you saw, then that’s fine. Feel free to tweet me @Dic_Banjo9 anytime and we’ll talk about it. I love hearing the opinions of our readers and I appreciate everyone who stops by and takes a look at what we have to offer. 

Next week, the Cup Series brings the new car to it’s first road course of the season, and I have a feeling COTA is gonna put on one heck of a show.

Photo Credit to @TeamHendrick the Official Twitter account of Hendrick Motorsports

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