Byron dominates for a wild Cup victory at the newly reconfigured Atlanta

In what William Byron summarized the competition at the newly reconfigured Atlanta Motor Speedway as a blend of intermediate and speedway style racing, the driver of the No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 put on a clinic and survived a chaotic afternoon to score a dominant victory in the Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 at Atlanta on Sunday, March 20.

The 24-year-old Byron from Charlotte, North Carolina, led eight times for a race-high 111 of the 325-scheduled laps, including the final 10, as he fended late charges from Bubba Wallace, Ryan Blaney and Ross Chastain to claim his first NASCAR Cup Series victory of the 2022 season and become the fifth different winner through the first five scheduled events.

The starting lineup for the event was determined through the Performance Metrics formula based on four statistics: drivers’ results, owners’ race and points results and the fastest lap from the previous Cup event. With that, Chase Briscoe, who notched his first Cup career victory last weekend at Phoenix Raceway, started on pole position. Joining him on the front row was Ryan Blaney.

The use of the Performance Metrics formula occurred after rain canceled all on-track activities on Friday, which resulted with the Cup competitors receiving a single practice session on Saturday in place of on-track qualifying.

Prior to the event, Brad Keselowski dropped to the rear of the field due to unapproved adjustments to his car along with rookie Harrison Burton, who dropped back due to his car failing pre-race inspection multiple times. 

When the green flag waved and the race started, Briscoe and Blaney battled dead-even for the top spot with Blaney leading the first lap by 0.010 seconds. During the following lap, however, Briscoe muscled to the lead followed by Kyle Busch while Blaney settled in third ahead of Chase Elliott and Joey Logano.

Six laps later, Kyle Busch muscled his No. 18 M&M’s Toyota TRD Camry to the lead ahead of Briscoe. Behind, Blaney battled teammate Logano and Elliott for third place.

Through the first 10 laps of the event, Kyle Bush was leading ahead of Briscoe, Blaney, Elliott and Logano while Ross Chastain, Tyler Reddick, Aric Almirola, Denny Hamlin and William Byron were in the top 10. 

Soon after, a fierce battle for the lead ignited between Kyle Busch and Elliott with both former Cup champions refusing to relent and staying dead even for the top spot. While Briscoe tucked in behind Busch on the outside lane, Blaney settled behind Elliott on the inside lane.

By Lap 20 and with competition towards the front engaged in close-quarters racing, Kyle Busch was ahead by nearly a tenth of a second over Briscoe followed by Chastain, Hamlin and Elliott while Byron, Blaney, Justin Haley, Logano and Reddick were in the top 10. 

Three laps later, the first caution flew when Noah Gragson, who was making his first Cup Series start with Kaulig Racing, got loose and wrecked hard against the Turns 1 and 2 outside wall. Under caution, some like Aric Almirola, Alex Bowman, Ty Dillon and David Ragan pitted while the rest led by Kyle Busch remained on the track.

When the race restarted under green on Lap 30, Chastain challenged Kyle Busch before the former overtook the latter during the following lap. Meanwhile, William Byron emerged towards the front as he moved into second place while Elliott tucked in fourth place behind Busch. 

By Lap 35, Byron moved his No. 24 Liberty University Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 into the lead following a brief battle with Chastain as the field was locked two-by-wide through every turn. 

When the competition caution flew on Lap 45, Chastain had just managed to overtake Byron to reassume the lead as the field settled in close-quarters racing. Under the competition caution, the leaders pitted and Blaney emerged with the lead following a two-tire stop. Prior to the restart, however, Blaney pitted again for four fresh tires and fuel. During the pit stops, Almirola spun after making contact with Erik Jones while Bubba Wallace nearly collided with Greg Biffle while trying to exit his pit stall. Meanwhile, Christopher Bell and Justin Haley were penalized for equipment violations while Kurt Busch was also penalized for a safety violation.

When the race restarted under green on Lap 51, Logano challenged Chastain for the lead, which he persevered until Chastain reassumed the lead on Lap 55. By then, the event featured 18 different lead changes for eight different leaders.

By Lap 60, Chastain was leading by a tenth of a second over Logano while Byron, Kyle Busch and Daniel Suarez were in the top five. Reddick was back in sixth ahead of Elliott, Alex Bowman, Hamlin and rookie Austin Cindric. By then, the top-22 competitors were separated by less than two seconds. During the following lap, however, the top-28 competitors were separated by less than two seconds.

Nearly five laps later, Logano issued another challenge and managed to overtake Chastain for the lead while Reddick started to gain ground on the front-runners. 

On Lap 70, Chastain and Reddick dueled for the lead while Logano drifted back to eighth place. Byron, meanwhile, settled in third ahead of Hamlin and Kyle Busch.

Ten laps later and with the front-runners settling in a long single-file line, Chastain continued to lead ahead of Byron, Reddick, Hamlin and Kyle Busch while Suarez, Elliott, Logano, Austin Dillon, and Erik Jones were in the top 10. Bowman was in 11th ahead of Stenhouse, Cindric, Kurt Busch and Kyle Larson.

Then on Lap 94, the caution flew when the leader Chastain veered dead straight into the Turn 2 outside wall as a result of a flat right-rear tire to his No. 1 AdventHealth Chevrolet Camaro ZL1. Under caution, a majority of the field including Logano pitted while 12 led by Byron remained on the track. During the pit stops, Ty Dillon was penalized for dragging his fuel can out of his pit stall. In addition, Chastain was penalized two laps for improper fueling while his crew repaired the damage to his car.

When the race restarted on Lap 100, Byron received a push from Austin Dillon to lead. Soon after, however, the caution returned when Kyle Busch got Austin Dillon loose, which resulted in Dillon colliding into the Turn 4 outside wall along with Busch. While the majority of the field fanned out to avoid Dillon and Busch, Ty Dillon and Chase Briscoe, both of whom were running towards the rear of the field, wrecked, knocking out both Dillon brothers from competition.

The multi-car wreck on the frontstretch was enough for the first stage scheduled on Lap 105 to conclude under caution as Byron captured his second stage victory of the season. Hamlin settled in second ahead of Suarez, Stenhouse, Erik Jones, Kurt Busch, Bowman, Reddick, Larson and Bell.

Under the stage break, 13 competitors led by Bell remained on the track while the rest pitted as Elliott exited first following a pit stop that only required fuel to his No. 9 NAPA Chevrolet Camaro ZL1.

The second stage started on Lap 110 as Bell and Logano battled for the lead. With Bell persevering on the outside lane, Cindric moved into second place followed by Bubba Wallace while Logano drifted back to fourth alongside Michael McDowell. Behind, Martin Truex Jr. and Kevin Harvick dueled for sixth place. 

On Lap 122, Harvick emerged with the lead after overtaking Bell while Truex made his charge to the front and ahead of the pack. Three laps later, however, Truex led himself a lap before Logano reassumed the top spot. By then, the field fanned out to nearly three lanes with the front-runners scrambling to charge to the front.

On Lap 128, the No. 45 Monster Energy Toyota TRD Camry piloted by Kurt Busch was out in front while Reddick was muscling his way back to the front along with Blaney, Stenhouse and Daniel Suarez. 

By Lap 140, Reddick reassumed the lead at the time when the event featured 15 different leaders. Not long after, however, Byron returned to the lead on Lap 144.

Just then on Lap 145, the caution flew for a multi-car wreck that started when Reddick, who was running in third place, got loose after blowing a right-rear tire entering Turn 4 before he was hit by Kurt Busch. With the field checking up and trying to dodge the chaos towards the front, Larson spun towards the infield after getting hit by Denny Hamlin along with Logano, Corey LaJoie as Cindric, Bowman, Cole Custer, rookie Todd Gilliland, Bell, Harrison Burton and McDowell were all involved.

Under caution, the field pitted and Byron retained the lead ahead of Harvick. During the pit stops, Truex was penalized for speeding on pit road along with Suarez, who pitted outside of his pit box.

When the race restarted on Lap 153, Harvick dueled against Byron in Turn 1 before he received a push from Blaney to clear the field with the lead. Behind, Blaney muscled into second place while Erik Jones and Aric Almirola battled for third place.

The caution, however, returned on Lap 156 due to debris on the frontstretch that came off of Reddick’s No. 8 3CHI Chevrolet Camaro ZL1. Under caution, Larson, Truex, Harrison Burton and the Busch brothers pitted while the rest led by Harvick remained on the track.

When the race restarted on Lap 161, Harvick received a strong push from Blaney to retain the lead on the outside lane. When the field returned to the start/finish line, however, Byron fought back on the inside lane as Byron had Erik Jones pushing him for momentum.

At the halfway mark between Laps 162 and 163, Byron cleared the field with the lead while Harvick fought back in second. Blaney, Erik Jones and Almirola were in the top five followed by Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Bell, Keselowski, Elliott, Justin Haley, Cindric, Chase Briscoe, Bubba Wallace, Chris Buescher, Truex, Hamlin, Greg Biffle, Suarez, BJ McLeod and Larson. By then 27 of 37 starters were scored on the lead lap.

By Lap 175, Byron continued to lead ahead of Bell, Blaney and Stenhouse while Harvick was mired back in fifth. 

Ten laps later, Stenhouse made his move to the lead followed by Blaney as Byron settled in third. In addition, Brad Keselowski emerged in the top five while Harvick drifted back to 10th.

Then on Lap 200, the caution flew when the leader Stenhouse blew a tire and slipped front of the field before he spun below the apron and collided against Cindric, who tried to dodge the incident below the apron. While some like the new leader Blaney dodged the carnage, others including Bell, Harvick and Jones wrecked or sustained damage.

Under caution, names like Daniel Suarez, Bell, Chris Buescher, Jones, Byron, Wallace, Biffle, Truex, Haley and Harvick pitted while the rest led by Blaney remained on the track. By then, Larson, who spun on Lap 145, was up in second place.

With three laps remaining in the second stage, the race restarted under green as Blaney and Larson occupied the front row ahead of Hamlin and Elliott, At the start, Larson received a push from teammate Elliott and Briscoe to take over the lead while Blaney tried to fight back on the outside lane. 

Then on the final lap of the second stage, the caution flew when Larson, who was battling for the win, got turned sideways entering Turn 4 as he bounced off of teammate Elliott before he shot back across Hamlin’s No. 11 FedEx Toyota TRD Camry and wrecked towards the outside wall. The incident was enough for the second stage to conclude under caution as Blaney captured his second stage victory of the season on Lap 210. Elliott settled in second followed by Briscoe, Almirola, Keselowski, Suarez, Truex, Wallace, Byron and Chastain.

Under the stage break, some led by Blaney pitted while the rest led by Daniel Suarez remained on the track.

With 109 laps remaining, the final stage started. At the start, Suarez rocketed with the advantage while Truex settled in behind Suarez’s rear bumper. In addition, Bubba Wallace started to challenge Truex for the runner-up spot while Bell and Kurt Busch were in the top five.

Down to the final 100 laps of the event, Truex received a push from Bubba Wallace to overtake Suarez and lead while Elliott muscled his way to fourth place ahead of Bell and Kurt Busch.

Four laps later, however, Elliott returned to the lead over Truex as the top-22 competitors were separated by more than three seconds. By then, the event featured 41 lead changes among 18 different leaders.

With 75 laps remaining, Elliott was leading by a tenth of a second over Suarez while Bell, Briscoe and Byron were in the top five. Truex, Wallace, Aric Almirola, Bowman and Logano were in the top 10 followed by Blaney, Buescher, Keselowski, Erik Jones, Haley, Chastain, Biffle, Cody Ware, Corey LaJoie and BJ McLeod.

Four laps later, the caution flew due to debris on the track in Turns 3 and 4. Under caution, the leaders pitted and Almirola exited with the top spot followed by Byron, Wallace, Blaney, Jones and Truex, all of whom elected for four fresh tires.

With 66 laps remaining, the race restarted under green. At the start, Almirola maintained the lead followed by Wallace before Byron overtook Wallace for the runner-up spot. 

Four laps later, Byron reassumed the lead as Wallace and Blaney followed pursuit while Almirola settled in fourth ahead of Truex. 

With 50 laps remaining, Byron continued to lead ahead of Wallace, Blaney, Almirola and Erik Jones as the top-23 competitors, all of whom were on the lead lap, were separated by less than three seconds.

Down to the final 25 laps of the event, Byron remained as the leader followed by Bubba Wallace, Blaney, Chastain, Almirola, Elliott, Erik Jones, Suarez, Briscoe and Bowman. Just then, the caution flew when rookie Todd Gilliland, who was lapped by the field, spun through the backstretch while Cody Ware, who was trying to dodge Gilliland, was sandwiched between two competitors and ended up pounding the inside wall head-on and with a vicious hit. 

Under caution, some including Bowman, Keselowski, Truex, Corey LaJoie, Logano, Kurt Busch and Haley pitted while the rest led by Byron remained on the track.

With 19 laps remaining, the race restarted under green. At the start, Wallace’s No. 23 McDonald’s Toyota TRD Camry received a push from Blaney’s No. 12 Body Armour Ford Mustang to challenge Byron’s No. 24 Liberty University Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 for the lead, but Byron received a push from Almirola’s No. 10 Smithfield Ford Mustang to retain the lead. Just then, the caution flew when Almirola spun off the front nose of Chastain across the frontstretch grass, though he did not sustain any significant damage to his Ford.

With 13 laps remaining, the race restarted under green. At the start, Byron received a push from Erik Jones’ No. 43 Focus Factor Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 to maintain a narrow advantage until Wallace also received a push from Blaney to take the lead.

Down to the final 10 laps of the event, Wallace was leading with a narrow advantage until Byron fought back on the inside lane. While Byron had Erik Jones pushing him on the inside lane, Wallace continued to receive support from Blaney. During the following lap, however, Byron managed to pull in front of Wallace to maintain the lead and clear the pack.

With five laps remaining, Byron maintained the lead followed by Wallace, Blaney and Chastain while fifth-place Elliott started to mount a challenge on the inside lane before he moved back to the outside lane. Briscoe, Truex, Suarez, Bell and Erik Jones were in the top 10 as the top-18 competitors were separated by less than a second.

When the white flag waved and the final lap started, Byron continued to lead ahead of Wallace while Ross Chastain mounted a challenge on Wallace to the inside lane followed by Bell and Suarez. Then in Turn 1, Wallace got loose in front of Blaney and Blaney ended up scraping the wall in front of Briscoe. As Blaney dropped out of contention while Wallace lost his momentum, Byron remained as the leader through the backstretch while Bell made a move beneath Chastain in a bid for second place. 

Despite having a pack of cars up close in the rearview mirror exiting the backstretch, Byron managed to fend off the momentum through the bottom and inside lanes in the final two turns as he stormed back to the frontstretch straight and streaked across the finish line to claim the victory by more than a tenth of a second.

With the victory, Byron notched his third career win in the NASCAR Cup Series, his first at Atlanta and his first since winning at Homestead-Miami Speedway in February 2021. He also became the third competitor from Hendrick Motorsports to win in 2022 alongside Alex Bowman and Kyle Larson.

“[The race] was so different,” Byron said on FOX. “Honestly, the last few laps there, [I] was just trying to manage the gap to Bubba [Wallace] and trying not to get too out front. My spotter Brandon [Lines], this is his first win, so congrats to him. Just thanks to this whole team. They’ve done a great job this year. Lots of changes with the Next Gen car, but the Liberty University Chevrolet was awesome there. [The team] Worked hard overnight. We had a pretty rough practice and worked hard on it and got it handling well. It was kind of an intermediate style with a little bit of speedway into it. Lot of fun. Thanks to everyone at Hendrick Motorsports and super exciting.”

Behind Byron, a multi-car wreck erupted that involved Buescher, Haley and Wallace as they were all battling for the finish, with Buescher managing to claim seventh place while Haley and Wallace ended up 11th and 13th respectively. In addition, Bell, who initially claimed the runner-up spot over Chastain, was credited with 23rd place, the final competitor on the lead lap, because he had advanced his position over Chastain below the white line markings, which was deemed illegal as part of Atlanta Motor Speedway’s reconfigured surface. 

This allowed Chastain, who blew a right-rear tire while leading early and was multiple laps down, to finish in second place for the second time in back-to-back weekends while Kurt Busch posted his second consecutive top-five result in third place. Suarez, Chastain’s teammate, came home in fourth place while Corey LaJoie notched his first career top-five result in the Cup Series. 

“What a day,” Chastain said. “That’s the fight in Trackhouse [Racing]. This Gen 7 car, to take a lick like that, blow a tire out of nowhere, leading, just cruising, blow a right rear [tire], slamming the wall. I thought our day was over. Our guys went underneath the car, got the tow closer and we got the balance back where I could drive it, This AdventHealth Chevy was fast. It was so fast. We were fighting with Will [Byron] there at the beginning. It’s so cool with, again, buddies. Like the last two [races], I’ve been able to race with my buddies…Daniel Suarez, what a teammate to push me there at the end.”

Elliott, Buescher, Truex, Logano and Bowman finished in the top 10. Notably, Erik Jones finished 14th ahead of Briscoe, Blaney fell back to 17th, teammates Harvick and Almirola ended up 21st and 22nd and Harrison Burton was the highest-finishing rookie in 25th.

There were a record-setting 46 lead changes for a record-setting 20 different leaders. The race featured a record-tying 11 cautions for 56 laps.

With his sixth-place result, Chase Elliott leads the regular-season standings by seven points over Joey Logano, 15 over Chase Briscoe, 20 over William Byron and 23 over Ryan Blaney and Kurt Busch.

Results.

1. William Byron, 111 laps led, Stage 1 winner

2. Ross Chastain, 42 laps led

3. Kurt Busch, four laps led

4. Daniel Suarez, 13 laps led

5. Corey LaJoie

6. Chase Elliott, 29 laps led

7. Chris Buescher

8. Martin Truex Jr., five laps led

9. Joey Logano, 12 laps led

10. Alex Bowman

11. Justin Haley, one lap led

12. Brad Keselowski

13. Bubba Wallace, three laps led

14. Erik Jones

15. Chase Briscoe, five laps led

16. Josh Bilicki

17. Ryan Blaney, 15 laps led, Stage 2 winner

18. David Ragan

19. BJ McLeod, two laps led

20. Greg Biffle

21. Kevin Harvick, 11 laps led

22. Aric Almirola, six laps led

23. Christopher Bell, 16 laps led

24. Michael McDowell, four laps down

25. Harrison Burton, four laps down

26. Cody Ware – OUT, Accident

27. Todd Gilliland – OUT, Dvp

28. Tyler Reddick – OUT, Accident, five laps led

29. Denny Hamlin – OUT, Accident, one lap led

30. Kyle Larson – OUT, Accident, one lap led

31. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. – OUT, Accident, 22 laps led

32. Austin Cindric – OUT, Accident

33. Kyle Busch – OUT, Accident, 21 laps led

34. Cole Custer – OUT, Accident

35. Austin Dillon – OUT, Accident

36. Ty Dillon – OUT, Accident

37. Noah Gragson – OUT, Accident

Next on the 2022 NASCAR Cup Series schedule is the series’ second running of the EchoPark Automotive Texas Grand Prix at Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas. The event is scheduled to occur on Sunday, March 27, at 3:30 p.m. ET on FOX.



The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of SpeedwayMedia.com.

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