Kyle Larson was absolutely dominant at Atlanta on Sunday. As Mike Joy kept reminding us, Larson had never won both stages and the race and he was proved right once again. Larson won both Stages handily and led 269 of the 325 circuits around the fast speedway.
But as we know, the most important lap to lead is the last one and that is where Larson gave up the race to Ryan Blaney. The race was full of long green runs, as is usual for Atlanta, and Larson told his team that he was giving up seed at the end of the run. Whatever the reason, Blaney proved stronger at the end of the run as the race went on. As the drivers faced lapped traffic, Larson wasn’t able to maintain his lead and Blaney drove smart through the traffic and eventually passed Larson for the win.
The two leaders had built up a substantial lead over the field so Larson was easily able to hold off Alex Bowman (P3) for second place.
The race reminded me of why Atlanta lost its two race dates. The long green flag runs made for some major distraction time if you needed a run to the fridge or had a honey do list that you could knock a few simple things off of.
The restarts were decent, but not as wild as Phoenix just a week ago. I can certainly say that I’d rather see more races like Phoenix than Atlanta.
The only other driver to lead any significant number of laps was Denny Hamlin (P4) who led 27.
The usual suspects
Last week I said that Ford would come loaded for bear with Kevin Harvick and Brad Keselowski showing the way. I thought Martin Truex, Jr. could be the first two-time winner in 2021. Kurt Busch was my dark horse winner and I noted that Ryan Blaney needed a good run to stay in discussions as a playoff contender this season.
Well, Kurt Busch (P39) had a good car but got knocked out on a restart in Stage 2, Martin Truex, Jr. (P9) was never a threat, Keselowski (P28) finished 4 laps down and Harvick (P10) was terrible most of the race and finally found something to get back on the lead lap and get a Top 10 with only 14 cars on the lead lap. Joey Logano (P15) was the first car one lap down.
Kyle Busch Watch
Kyle Busch finished P5 which isn’t bad and considering how off he has been this year, that is clearly a good finish.
We’re happy for ya
As I mentioned, Alex Bowman (P3) finished way behind Blaney but a Top 5 is a Top 5. Austin Dillon (P6) showed a lot of speed and was in the Top 10 hunt most of the race. Chris Buescher (P7) ran well. Matt DiBenedetto (P11) finished just outside the Top 10 but was running better than that in the final stage. Bubba Wallace (P16) and Daniel Suarez (P17) both had a decent day and Suarez actually led one of the few laps not led by Kyle Larson. Suarez might have been able to secure a Top 10 had he not been caught speeding on pit road. I thought this would be a tell-tale race for Christopher Bell (P21) and it wasn’t good. They were really not able to maintain speed and he was mired in the Top 25 all day. They have some work to do.
Wanna get dirty?
Depending on your point of view, the dirt race at Bristol will be either a disastrous gimmick by NASCAR or one of the most anticipated races of recent memory. There will be practice on Friday night, qualifying races (yes, plural) on Saturday night and the race is on Sunday afternoon. And yes, both the Truck and Cup series will be running on the dirt. Look for several of the Cup drivers in a truck on Saturday.
You can throw all the average finishes out the window for this race. I expect that drivers who were good on dirt MIGHT still be good on dirt. The one that stands out the most to me will be Kyle Larson who spent the last year running Sprint and dirt races. If he can stay out of trouble (can you say, “the yellow flag is out again?”) he has a good chance of picking up win number two.
I think a lot of the younger drivers who have just started their Cup careers may bring more recent dirt racing experience with them to give the veterans a big run for the money. I for one, am excited to see this race. I’ll definitely try to catch practice and qualifying.
That’s all I have this week, stay sharp and keep the shiny side up. Leave me your thoughts and comments below.
(Featured Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)