Written by Sean McKean, Edited by Vyas Ponnuri
While the threat of rain loomed the entire evening, it was Hendrick’s William Byron outlasting the whole field to take his fourth win of the NASCAR Cup Series season. It is Byron’s second win at Atlanta, and eighth of his career.
Though the winner may not be an unfamiliar sight to most, this race was full of upset finishers and upset drivers alike. Here’s a brief synopsis of the fantastic action in Atlanta:
Stewart-Haas’s Aric Almirola would lead the field to the green flag alongside Coca-Cola 600 winner Ryan Blaney. Going into the race, everyone expected the aggression to be high due to the likelihood of race-ending thunderstorms. So, from the drop of the green flag, it would be a race to lap 130 instead of the planned 260, as the halfway point makes races official.
It would not take long for a caution to come out, with Wood Brothers Racing’s Harrison Burton going for a spin off of turn two. Luckily for the four-time XFINITY series winner, he only suffered minimal damage, and was able to continue.
Though drivers got their elbows out, the rest of the first stage would go green until the end, with Ryan Blaney barely eking it out over Kyle Larson, with Martin Truex Jr in third.
Under the stage caution, some major contenders would get shuffled to the back. Martin Truex Jr was spun in pit road, and a litany of pit road penalties were handed out to William Byron, Christopher Bell, and Denny Hamlin.
In Stage two, Ryan Blaney led the opening stints, until a caution was called out for a spinning Byron. On the front stretch, Spire’s Corey LaJoie tried to move high, but he was not clear of Byron, causing him to spin through the infield.
As the green flag dropped, following the short clean-up on lap 80, Chris Buescher and AJ Allmendinger would find themselves to the front of the field, gambling on pit strategy. With the rain ever-approaching, they had to get their elbows out to defend from the many drivers behind without wins, including Ryan Preece, Alex Bowman, and Austin Cindric.
The aggression proved to be too much for many in the middle of the pack, as the caution came out once more on lap 118. Corey LaJoie was involved once again, this time cutting across the nose of Erik Jones, resulting in a stack-up involving Truex, Gibbs, Chastain, and Reddick.
With the drop of the green flag, the race officially reached the halfway point. From here, it was an all-out battle between Penske’s Joey Logano, Ryan Blaney, and Austin Cindric, against RFK’s Brad Keselowski and Chris Buescher. Continuously swapping the lead, Keselowski would be the one to edge out a small gap over the rest.
Stage 2 ultimately came to an end under yellow on lap 156, as Alex Bowman would get loose under Denny Hamlin, and spin him off turn four. Keselowski took the stage win with Blaney second and Buescher third, valuable playoff points for the RFK crew.
Even though the weather was close by, the RFK and Penske cars were running on fumes for fuel. After crossing the line to win the stage, Brad Keselowski, as well as most of the pack, pitted to take fuel and tyres. The new top three following yellow-flag pit cycles were AJ Allmendinger, Michael McDowell, and William Byron.
It would be melee from the drop of the green flag, as an all-out battle ensued with the top few drivers. Ultimately though, it was William Byron finding himself in the lead of the race. Defending from hard-charging drivers in the form of Daniel Suarez, Michael McDowell, and even JJ Yeley, all bets were off.
However, the field couldn’t keep it clean. With 88 to go, Kevin Harvick went for a spin on the front stretch, but race control kept the race green. With 82 to go, the race would be neutralised after Bubba Wallace and Ryan Preece spun in front of the pack. This was the crash that ultimately brought the race to an end, as the heavy rain intensified with lightning in the area.
William Byron held on to take his fourth win of the season, the most of all drivers currently. Daniel Suarez finished second with AJ Allmendinger following closely in third, great results that brought them closer to the playoffs. Michael McDowell held on, despite running on fumes, to finish fourth. Kyle Busch rallied back with two fresh tyres to take fifth.
A great comeback drive from Brad Keselowski too, having gone from 18th to sixth on the final stretch of the race. Amidst the rest of the front runners, Rick Ware Racing’s JJ Yeley ended up finishing in seventh, taking RWR’s best finish of the season.
If you would like to catch the next bit of action, the drivers will be heading to the one-mile New Hampshire track in New England on July 16, at 14:30 EST (19:30 UK).