Georgia’s Chase Elliott hangs on for home win at Atlanta
Dawsonville, Georgia’s own Chase Elliott swept both stages and led a race-high 96 laps in claiming his first career NASCAR Cup Series win at his home track of Atlanta Motor Speedway.
But he certainly had to work for it in the end.
Following a final restart with three laps to go, Elliott got around Corey LaJoie for the lead with two laps to go. After the field took the white flag, LaJoie - who was seeking his first career Cup win anywhere - made a charge on Elliott into Turn 1.
Elliott moved high to defend, causing the drivers to make contact. LaJoie then got into the Turn 2 SAFER Barrier and spun into the field before a glancing blow from another car knocked him back into the barrier, collecting Kurt Busch in the process.
The race subsequently ended under caution. Elliott claimed his third win of the 2022 season and joined his Hall of Fame father, Bill Elliott, as a Cup winner at Atlanta (Bill won five times there during his career).
“This one’s up there for sure, man,” Elliott told NBC Sports’ Marty Snider when asked where Sunday’s win ranked among his victories. “To win at your home track is a really big deal, I think, to any race car driver. I’ve watched a lot of guys do it over the years.
”...We haven’t really had a really good run here, so I felt like today was a good opportunity for us. I’m just so proud. This is obviously home for me, home to a lot of great fans who made a lot of noise today. Home for (sponsor) NAPA, right down the road in Atlanta. I just couldn’t be more proud of our team.”
Meanwhile, LaJoie was left with a wrecked Chevrolet and a 21st-place finish.
“Closest I’ve ever been, for sure,” LaJoie told NBC Sports. “That was fun... It was nice to have that thing out in the wind for once. I made my move and it didn’t work out. He made a good block.
“The siren’s ringing in Dawsonville (Georgia), unfortunately... I wish that 7 car was in Victory Lane, but if we keep running like this more consistently, that time will come.”
Ross Chastain, whose aggressive driving helped lead to several incidents Sunday, finished second behind Elliott. Austin Cindric finished third, followed by Erik Jones in fourth and Ryan Blaney in fifth.
Following a clean first stage of 60 laps, the second stage had five cautions due to spins or accidents. The biggest of those incidents came at Lap 91.
Contact from Chastain turned Martin Truex Jr. around in Turn 2, setting off a nine-car crash that collected Joey Logano, Kyle Busch, reigning Cup Series champion Kyle Larson, Martin Truex Jr. and Austin Dillon among others.
During the crash, contact from Christopher Bell sent Michael McDowell into Dillon, who was then turned hard into the Turn 2 SAFER Barrier. Dillon was checked and released from the infield care center, then called out Chastain for his role in the incident.
Single-car incidents for Chris Buescher, Chase Briscoe and Alex Bowman followed in the second stage. In both Buescher and Bowman’s cases, they suffered tire failures, hit the SAFER Barrier, and were unable to continue.
Another major crash broke out shortly after the start of the final stage. At Lap 170, Garrett Smithley appeared to lift out of the throttle entering Turn 3. Ty Dillon then made contact with Smithley, both drivers went into the SAFER Barrier, and a pile-up ensued.
Among those involved were contenders Tyler Reddick and William Byron, who won the first race on Atlanta’s reconfigured layout this past spring. Both Reddick and Byron were eliminated from the race, as was Ty Dillon.
Following another incident at Lap 189 involving Kyle Busch and Cody Ware, LaJoie made his presence felt up front in a bid to become the next new winner of the 2022 Cup season.
LaJoie, driving for Spire Motorsports, led for a short period before Elliott regained control with less than 60 laps to go. The race continued on until a spin from Bell in Turn 4 and into the tri-oval grass brought out the caution with 25 laps to go.
Truex Jr. got out to the lead following the restart with 19 laps to go. Four laps later, Chastain was involved in another incident - this time with Denny Hamlin, with whom he clashed earlier this season at World Wide Technology Raceway.
Contact from Chastain in Turn 4 sent Hamlin around to put the race under yellow with 15 laps to go. Shortly after the next restart with 8 laps left, another caution came out for an incident involving Hamlin, Bell and Logano. That set up the three-lap dash to the finish.
Stage 1 winner: Chase Elliott
Stage 2 winner: Chase Elliott
Who had a good race: LaJoie led a career-high 19 laps Sunday at Atlanta - the track where he posted his career-best Cup Series finish of fifth this past spring... Erik Jones’ fourth-place finish was just his second top-five result this season. He finished third in February at Auto Club Speedway... Justin Haley’s seventh-place finish was his second top-10 result this season. He finished third in May at Darlington Raceway.
Who had a bad race: Apparent engine issues forced Ricky Stenhouse Jr. out of the race shortly before the start of the final stage. With that, Stenhouse and the No. 47 JTG Daugherty Racing team lost out on a critical opportunity to make the playoffs with a win. Stenhouse entered Sunday far behind the cutline (172 points behind 16th place).
Next: New Hampshire Motor Speedway - Sunday, July 17, 3 p.m. ET on USA Network