HAMPTON — As a youngster racing Bandolero and Legends cars on Atlanta Motor Speedway, Joey Logano won many races, but as a NASCAR Cup Series driver he never got to victory lane at AMS.
“It’s so special to win at Atlanta for me,” Logano said right after winning Sunday's Ambetter 400 NASCAR Cup Series race. “So many memories of me and my dad racing right here on the quarter-mile. This is the full circle for us. To finally win here means so much to me personally.”
Logano started from the pole, dominated the first two stages, and led a race-high 140 laps, but it all came down the last lap.
Logano and Brad Keselowski battled the last several laps with Keselowski running the outside line in first and Logano running in second place on the bottom.
On the final lap, Logano was able to take the lead and cross the finish line in first.
“The bottom came with a huge run; I don’t know how and I thought I had it blocked and Joey just kept shaking and his car didn’t stall out,” Keselowski said. “Great run all in all.”
Keselowski, who led 47 laps, emphasized that it’s possible to race hard without wrecking each other.
“The coolest thing about it is two veterans showed you can run a race here side-by-side on drafting and not wreck the field,” Keselowski said. “It can happen if you race respectfully, and I think everybody did a great job. We were right there. I’m proud of my team for the effort.”
Christopher Bell took third and Corey LaJoie posted his career-best finish in fourth.
“It feels great.” LaJoie said. “It’s like this taboo, second sucks. Fourth is great. Fourth is great for our Celsius Camaro and our small team. Just a great points day … I don’t expect to show up and instantly win a race. You have to keep putting yourself in these positions, like Joey. That is why he wins all the time, because he’s up front all the time. As I get myself some more confidence, race around these guys, these guys see me up there racing with them, our day is going to come.”
Tyler Reddick placed fifth and rounding out the top 10 were Denny Hamlin, Ryan Blaney, Erik Jones, Ty Gibbs (who started 35th ) and Kyle Busch.
Logano led every lap of a relatively quiet Stage 1 and continued to lead until lap 63 into Stage 2. In contrast to multiple cautions in Saturday’s Truck Series and Xfinity races, Sunday’s Cup race only had one caution in the first stage. On Lap 10, Bubba Wallace was running in 19th and spun out and hit the wall on Turn 2.
With no cautions in Stage 2, drivers had to make green flag pit stops from about Lap 121 to Lap 141.
After the green flag pit stops, Logano snagged the lead again at 143. Logano led until one lap to go until the end of Stage 2.
Austin Cindric won Stage 2 with Reddick taking second, Logano third, Alex Bowman fourth and William Byron fifth.
Through the first two stages, Logano led 136 of 160 laps.
On Lap 189, Kevin Harvick took the lead, but on the backstretch, he got loose as Ross Chastain got behind him.
Harvick then spun out, causing a 10-car wreck involving Harvick, Austin Dillon, Kyle Busch, Josh Berry, Chris Buescher, Harrison Burton, Wallace, Byron, Gibbs and B.J. McLeod. Harvick, Buescher, Burton, Byron and McLeod were all knocked out of the race because of the wreck.
Byron had won the previous two races but saw his hopes for a possible three-peat end with the wreck.
“It looked like the 1 (Chastain) and 4 (Harvick) got connected there into Turn 1,” Byron said. “That’s just part of racing; that’s not really in our control.”
All lead-lap cars pitted on Lap 195 with Hamlin and Ty Dillon colliding on pit road as Dillon entered his pit box and Hamlin was leaving his. Ross Chastain then got pushed into the grass.
Aric Almirola was leading from lap 196 to 208 but he blew a tire, causing a five-car wreck. Almirola and Kyle Larson were taken out of the race while Justin Haley, Tyler Reddick and Daniel Suarez also were involved. Suarez pitted at Lap 213 and retired the car from there.
“I didn’t have nowhere to go,” Larson said. “Nobody was having tire issues so I wasn’t expecting somebody to have tire issues in front of me. Even if I did, I didn’t have time to react so just a bummer, just frustrating. Finally up front at this type of racetrack and still got a DNF, I don’t know, just frustrating.”
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