Last week, I laid out a formula for winning at Atlanta by leading a lot of laps.
Joey Logano did just that leading 140 of the 260 laps from the pole. Brad Keselowski placed second and led a distant 47 laps. Eleven other drivers led but they weren’t even close to the top 2 lap leaders.
Team Penske started out strong and led the way most of the race with Chevy teams, most notable Hendrick, nowhere to be found. Ford held the first 8 starting positions and nabbed the first four spots in Stage 1 while grabbing the top two spots in Stage 2. Alex Bowman and William Byron finally cracked the Top 10 in Stage 2 but Team Chevy had little to show at the end except for Corey LaJoie finishing a career best 4th. Erik Jones and Kyle Busch were the only other Chevy’s in the Top 10. From 12th through 20th, Chevy placed seven cars which tells you they were off but they were consistent.
Logano, Austin Cindric and Ryan Blaney ran nose to tail for much of the race. The first two race stages were not a super exciting race with the leaders running the top lane and leaving the field to fight for position. The final stage saw cars running two and three wide for longer stretches. The top lane was still the preferred lane and late in the race it was a battle back and forth with Logano and Keselowski swapping the lead lap after lap. Ryan Blaney was pushing Logano and Keselowksi had Christopher Bell and LaJoie behind him. As the final laps wound down, Bell made a move on Keselowski that allowed Logano to sneak back up into the top lane where he went around Keselowski and Bell. Bell gave Logano a shot that pushed him far enough into the lead that Keselowski had not time remaining to catch up. Race over.
Things of note
As noted, Corey LaJoie ran a great race. He was 10th in Stage 2 but wound up racing in the Top 10 and Top 5 much of the latter stages of the race. If he keeps running like that, his first win won’t elude him or his team much longer.
Denny Hamlin was penalized for his comments about purposely taking out Ross Chastain. He is appealing the decision but you don’t get any take backs at the Cup level. Brad Keselowski said that a lack of respect for other drivers is a major problem in Cup and alluded to Hamlin’s actions. Kyle Busch also said that a lack of respect between drivers is hurting the sport. Seems Denny has touched a nerve with some drivers. And yes, we all remember what Rowdy has done on track in the various series. Interesting take by him with that past behavior.
Hendrick is also appealing the huge penalties for the hood louvre issue last week. The hood louvres were taken after practice so Hendrick ran with louvres that passed inspection. Chad Knaus said that they have issues with the single source suppliers that NASCAR uses and these louvres were one of the parts they have issues with. Essentially, Hendrick is being fined for a part that they told NASCAR about and that they practiced with but did not race with. Chad Knaus is known for pushing the rules while a crew chief so we’ll see what NASCAR has to say about the appeal.
Next up: COTA
Cup drivers only have two races under their belt here and there is a new race package this year, so this should be an interesting race. Chase Elliott won the inaugural race and Ross Chastain won last year.
This was a good race for Team Chevy in the past and I look for the same this week. Toyota placed only one car in the Top 10 in 2021 and two in 2022 led by, yup, Christopher Bell.
We won’t see the 9 car in Victory Lane this week but Kyle Larson and Alex Bowman should be a threat and even AJ Allmendinger could stir the pot if he can avoid accidents. And keep an eye on Kyle Busch. If they don’t have any hiccups, his Chevy could find Victory Lane.
Tyler Reddick could be a threat this week. He has a new team this year and they might still be figuring things out, so temper your excitement a bit based on that. But what a place and time to go to Victory Lane?
Amongst the Ford teams, you can’t ignore Logano, Blaney or even Cindric this week for Top 10 finishes.
That’s my take. What’s yours? Leave your thoughts in the comment section below.
Stay frosty and keep the shiny side up!
(Featured photo: Copyright: © 2023 David Rosenblum NKP http://www.NigelKinrade.com)