The patience and determination to execute a winning move on the final lap amid the draft paid off for Joey Logano as he capped off a dominant run with a final lap victory in the Ambetter Health 400 at Atlanta Motor Speedway on Sunday, March 19.
The reigning two-time NASCAR Cup Series champion from Middletown, Connecticut, led five times for a race-high 140 of 260-scheduled laps and found himself in a prime position of battling for the victory against ex-teammate Brad Keselowski and a host of competitors running in two tight-packed lanes. After keeping the leaders within reach on the inside lane, Logano received a push from Corey LaJoie on the final lap to execute his race-winning move to the outside of Keselowski. Once he assumed the lead through the backstretch, the Connecticut native was able to pull away from the field and triumph both for the first time in the 2023 Cup season and at Atlanta.
With on-track qualifying that determined the starting lineup occurring on Saturday, Joey Logano notched his second Cup pole of the season after posting a pole-winning lap at 177.374 mph in 31.256 seconds. Joining him on the front row was teammate Austin Cindric, who posted the second-best qualifying lap at 177.340 mph in 31.262 seconds, while his third teammate Ryan Blaney qualified third fastest on the grid with a speed of 177.215 mph in 31.284 seconds.
Prior to the event, Christopher Bell, who spun during Saturday’s qualifying session, was the only competitor to drop to the rear of the field due to unapproved adjustments made to his No. 20 DeWalt Toyota TRD Camry.
When the green flag waved and the race commenced, Logano jumped ahead and quickly crossed his No. 22 AutoTrader Ford Mustang from the outside to the inside lane in front of teammate Cindric to retain the lead ahead of two tight-packed lanes of competitors. As the field returned to the frontstretch, Logano led the first lap in front of his Team Penske teammates, all of whom were running on the outside lane, while the field remained in tight formation through two packed lanes.
Through the first five scheduled laps, Logano was leading ahead of teammates Cindric and Blaney while Brad Keselowski and Kevin Harvick were in the top five. Aric Almirola was in sixth, thus placing six Fords within the top-six spots, while Kyle Larson was the highest-running Chevrolet competitor in seventh. Chase Briscoe, Denny Hamlin and William Byron were in the top 10 while Chris Buescher, Michael McDowell, Alex Bowman, Austin Dillon, Justin Haley, Ross Chastain, rookie Noah Gragson, Bubba Wallace, Kyle Busch and Tyler Reddick occupied the top 20.
Five laps later, the first caution of the event flew when Bubba Wallace, who was running towards the top 20, got loose and spun towards the inside wall in the backstretch, where he impacted the wall before his No. 23 DoorDash Toyota TRD Camry came to a rest in the backstretch. Despite limping his damaged car to pit road and returned following the repairs, he fell out of the lead lap category. At the moment of caution, Logano retained the lead in front of his Team Penske teammates and the field. During the caution period, some like Ricky Stenhouse Jr., BJ McLeod, Corey LaJoie, Harrison Burton, Martin Truex Jr., rookie Ty Gibbs, Ryan Preece and JJ Yeley pitted while the rest led by Logao remained on the track.
When the event restarted on Lap 15, Logano and Keselowski dueled for the lead until Logano managed to pull away on the outside lane followed by teammates Cindric and Blaney. As Keselowski dropped to fourth, Larson and Hamlin battled for fifth amid two tight-packed lanes of competitors battling within the draft.
By Lap 25, the inside lane led by Hamlin started to gain momentum as Hamlin challenged Cindric for second followed by Larson while Logano, who remained on the outside lane in front of his Team Penske teammates, continued to lead the field.
Just past the Lap 40 mark, Logano retained the lead ahead of teammates Cindric and Blaney while Keselowski and Hamlin were running in the top five. Behind, Chris Buescher, Kyle Busch, Christopher Bell, Larson and Truex were competing in the top 10 as the top-32 competitors were separated by more than three seconds. By the event surpassed the Lap 50 mark, the top-32 competitors were separated by nearly four seconds as Logano continued to lead the field. In addition, nearly the entire field migrated to the outside lane and in a long single-file line behind Logano.
When the first stage concluded on Lap 60, Logano captured his first stage victory of the 2023 Cup season. Teammate Cindric settled in second followed by Keselowski while Blaney, who tried to make his move to the front on the inside lane on the first stage’s final lap, fell back to fourth. Hamlin settled in fifth while Bell, Kyle Busch, Buescher, Suarez and Truex were scored in the top 10.
Under the stage break, the lead lap field led by Logano pitted while diving into Atlanta Motor Speedway’s new pit road entrance on the apron at the start of Turn 3 under a cautious pace. Following the pit stops, Kyle Busch exited with the lead despite concerns of not having enough fuel fueled into his No. 8 Lenovo Chevrolet Camaro ZL1. Keselowski exited second followed by Blaney, Cindric, Logano and Truex.
The second stage started on Lap 67 as Kyle Busch and Keselowski occupied the front row. At the start, Busch and Keselowski battled for the lead, with the former managing to move in front of the field with drafting help from Blaney and in front of a bevy of Ford competitors. Two laps later, however, Blaney made his move in Turn 1 to assume the lead from Busch. Behind, Logano battled Busch for second on the inside lane while Keselowski remained within touch of the leaders. Not long after, however, a side-by-side battle ensued between Blaney and Busch with the field locked in two tight-packed lanes.
By Lap 75, Busch was drafted back into the lead with help from Logano before Logano launched his attack to reassume the top spot. Behind, Blaney, Keselowski, Buescher, Cindric, Truex, Hamlin, Bell, Bowman and Byron battled for spots within the top 10 while 35 of 36 starters were separated by more than three seconds.
Through the first 90 scheduled laps, Logano was leading a long line of competitors running towards the outside lane followed by Busch, Blaney, Keselowski and Buescher while Cindric, Truex, Hamlin, Bell and Bowman were scored in the top 10. Behind, Byron was in 11th ahead of Corey LaJoie, Daniel Suarez, Gragson and Austin Dillon while Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Ross Chastain, Gibbs, Kevin Harvick and Larson were back in the top 20.
At the Lap 100 mark, Logano continued to lead in front of Busch, Blaney, Keselowski and Buescher while the top-31 competitors scaling back to Chase Briscoe were separated by more than four seconds. By then, names like Harvick, Erik Jones, Aric Almirola, Michael McDowell, AJ Allmendinger, Harrison Burton and Tyler Reddick were mired outside the top 20 while Josh Berry, who was making his third start as an interim competitor for Chase Elliott was in 20th behind teammate Larson.
Fifteen laps later, Logano retained the lead in front of Busch, Blaney, Keselowski and Buescher while Cindric, Truex, Hamlin, Bell and Bowman were running in the top 10. Another 10 laps later, Busch surrendered the runner-up spot to pit for fresh tires and fuel along with Truex, who had no fuel pressure reported to his car. Earlier, Austin Dillon nearly missed the pit road’s entrance as he had his car serviced.
At the halfway mark on Lap 130, Logano remained out in front ahead of teammate Blaney, Buescher, Cindric and Hamlin while Bell, Bowman, Byron, Suarez and Stenhouse occupied the top 10. By then, Keselowski peeled off the track to pit along with Corey LaJoie and Ty Dillon.
Two laps later, the Team Penske trio led by Logano, Blaney and Cindric pitted under green as Buescher cycled to the lead. Names that included Haley, Burton, Chastain, Suarez and Stenhouse would also pit. Amid the pit stops and with more front-runners pitting, Blaney was penalized with a pass-through penalty for speeding on pit road. In addition, Preece was penalized for a commitment line violation.
Back on the track and with nearly the entire field having made a pit stop under green, Bell, who had yet to pit and assumed the lead on Lap 137, was leading followed by Larson with nearly 20 laps remaining in the second stage. Once both pitted, Logano cycled his way back into the lead followed by teammate Cindric, Reddick, Byron and Buescher with 17 laps remaining in the second stage. Following his green flag pit stop, Bell managed to blend within the field and the draft in 13th in between LaJoie and Larson.
With less than 10 laps remaining in the second stage, Logano continued to lead in front of teammate Cindric, Reddick, Byron and Buescher while the top-12 competitors were separated by a second. In addition, the top-30 competitors were scored on the lead lap while Blaney was mired two laps down following his speeding penalty.
When the second stage concluded on Lap 160, Cindric, who made a three-wide move on teammate Logano and Reddick through Turns 3 and 4, muscled his No. 2 Menards Ford Mustang to his first stage victory of the 2023 Cup season. Logano settled in second ahead of Bowman and Reddick while Byron, Buescher, Truex, Hamlin, Keselowski and LaJoie were scored in the top 10.
Under the stage break, the lead lap competitors led by Cindric pitted and Aric Almirola cycled into the lead after only opting for fuel. Logano exited second followed by Cindric, Stenhouse, Bowman, Byron and Harvick. Following the pit stops, Buescher was penalized for speeding on pit road. In addition, Reddick made another trip to pit road to get enough fuel to his car.
With 92 laps remaining, the final stage started as Almirola and Stenhouse occupied the front row. At the start, Almirola was drafted into the lead from Logano through the first two turns before Stenhouse fought back on the inside lane with drafting help from Byron. As the field returned to the frontstretch, Stenhouse emerged with the lead followed by Byron as Harvick charged his way towards the front. With Stenhouse retaining the lead, Byron settled in second along with Almirola while Harvick, who tried to charge to the lead on the inside lane, settled in fourth place on the outside lane. Meanwhile, Hamlin, the first competitor running on the inside lane and receiving drafting help from LaJoie, was locked in a battle with Logano for fifth.
With 85 laps remaining, Hamlin emerged with the lead over Stenhouse as the field behind fanned out to two lanes while jostling for late positions. In the process, Larson moved up to fourth in front of Almirola, Harvick settled in seventh behind Keselowski, LaJoie was in eighth and Logano fell back to 12th behind Briscoe.
Down to the final 75 laps of the event, Hamlin was leading in front of Byron, Harvick, Larson and Stenhouse while Chastain, Almirola, Keselowski, Buescher and Josh Berry were in the top 10. By then, 31 of 36 starters were separated by less than two seconds.
Four laps later, however, Harvick, who was drafted into the lead with help from Chastain, got loose in front of Chastain’s front nose as his No. 4 Busch Light Ford Mustang veered sideways and backward before receiving a hard hit by Buescher and colliding against Berry and Byron in the backstretch as the caution returned. In the midst of a multi-car wreck, Kyle Busch, Harrison Burton and BJ McLeod were also involved as Harvick’s penultimate event at Atlanta, the track where he notched his first Cup career victory, came to a late end. Back at the front, Chastain managed to escape with the lead followed by Hamlin, Larson, Reddick and Almirola. During the pit stops, the leaders led by Chastain returned to pit road for service. Following the pit stops, Almirola cycled his way back into the lead followed by Larson, Keselowski, Chastain (who got pushed into the grass while exiting pit road) and Reddick. During the pit stops, Hamlin made contact with Ty Dillon, who was trying to enter his pit stall.
When the event restarted under green with 61 laps remaining, Almirola retained the lead with drafting help from Larson on the outside lane and was eventually able to control both lanes exiting the backstretch and back to the start/finish line. With Almirola out in front, Larson was in second followed by Keselowski, Chastain, Reddick and Bell while names like Bowman, Suarez, Hamlin and Haley were in the top 10.
With 51 laps remaining, the caution returned when the leader Almirola veered sideways in Turns 3 and 4 after cutting a tire. With nowhere to go, Larson hit Almirola’s No. 10 Smithfield Ford Mustang before he got bumped from Reddick and clipped into the side of Haley’s No. 31 LeafFilter Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 and veered back across to the frontstretch’s outside wall with a destroyed No. 5 HendrickCars.com Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 as Suarez also sustained damage while trying to avoid Larson. With Almirola and Larson eliminated from contention, Keselowski dodged the carnage to assume the lead. Under the caution period, names like Chastain, Truex, Ty Dillon, Haley, Austin Dillon, Suarez and Berry pitted while the rest led by Keselowski remained on the track.
During the following restart with 44 laps remaining, Keselowski, who was receiving constant guidance from veteran spotter TJ Majors, cleared the field along with Reddick as both remained first and second in front of the pack before Bowman squeezed in between both amid the draft. Soon after, Logano, with spotting help from Coleman Pressley, launched his charge to the front along with teammate Blaney, who rallied from his pit road penalty. In addition, Cindric worked his way up to fifth before eventually overtaking Reddick for fourth as Gibbs moved into the top six.
With 35 laps remaining, Keselowski’s No. 6 King’s Hawaiian Ford Mustang was leading ahead of Logano’s No. 22 AutoTrader Ford Mustang while Team Penske’s Blaney and Cindric dueled for third in front of a bevy of competitors stacked tight in a draft. A lap later, Logano moved back into the lead followed by teammate Blaney as Keselowski fell back to third. With Reddick and Cindric in the top five, Bell, Gibbs, AJ Allmendinger, Hamlin and Stenhouse battled within the top 10. With 30 laps remaining, however, Keselowski reassumed the lead from Logano as Toyota competitors Reddick, Bell and Hamlin made their way to the front. LaJoie also moved his No. 7 Celsius Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 to fifth while Logano fell back to sixth, though he kept the leaders close within his sights on the inside lane.
Down to the final 20 laps of the event and with the field stacked to two tight-packed lanes in the draft, Keselowski was leading ahead of Reddick, Logano, Bell and Blaney while Hamlin, Cindric, LaJoie, Bowman and Kyle Busch were scored in the top 10. In addition, the top-23 competitors scaling back to Ty Dillon were separated by less than two seconds.
With 10 laps remaining, Keselowski continued to lead over Logano, Reddick, Blaney and Bell as the top-23 competitors scaling back to Austin Dillon were trailing by a second. By then, Keselowski and Logano began to duel amid the draft for the lead, with the former managing to peak ahead. With the battles towards the front ensuing, Keselowski retained the lead with five laps remaining as he cleared the field with Reddick, Bell, Logano, Hamlin and LaJoie closing in.
When the white flag waved and the final lap started, Keselowski remained as the leader over Bell and the field that was fanning out. By then, Logano, who kept the leaders within reach on the inside lane, had drafting help from LaJoie to move back to the front and launch a final attack on Keselowski for the lead. Entering Turn 1, Keselowski moved to the inside lane to block Logano. He then tried to move back up the outside lane to block Logano again, but it was too late as Logano gained the momentum and the drafting help from a bevy of cars, including Bell, to reassume the lead through the backstretch. With the field fanning out through Turns 3 and 4, Logano managed to gain control of both lanes with the clean air and streak across the finish line first with the victory.
With the victory, Logano notched his 32nd career victory in NASCAR’s premier series, his first since winning both the 2022 finale and championship at Phoenix Raceway in November and his first at Atlanta in his 19th series attempt. He also became the fourth different winner through the first five scheduled events on the 2023 season and delivered the first Cup victories of the season for both Team Penske and Ford.
“First off, it’s so special to win Atlanta for me,” Logano, who credited spotter Coleman Pressley and his No. 22 team, said on FOX. “So many memories of me and my dad, racing right here on the quarter mile [design]. This is the full circle for us. So many memories of gritting over there with the Legends car and racing, having a big time and dreaming of going straight at the quarter mile and going onto the big track. That was always a dream to do it. To finally win here means so much to me personally but to this race team. The AutoTrader Mustang, this thing was an animal. It was very, very fast. [I] Was able to lead a ton of laps and race really hard there at the end. Get a good push from [Bell] to clear myself and enough of a push to get all the way to the end. Huge victory. Nice to get one early in the season. It always feels better, but what a great day for us…We’re coming home with the trophy, baby!”
Keselowski, whose last Cup victory spans back to Talladega Superspeedway in April 2021, settled in second place, which was his best as a driver/co-owner of Roush Fenway Keselowski Racing, while Bell came home in third place after rallying from starting at the rear of the field. Behind, Corey LaJoie notched a career-best fourth-place finish while Reddick, who was battling sickness throughout the event, completed the top five.
“The bottom run came with a huge run,” Keselowski said. “I don’t know how, and I thought I had it blocked. Joey just kept shaking and his car didn’t stall out. I couldn’t get the push down the [backstretch]. I thought, ‘I’ll get a push down the back’ and [Bell] just hauled down there. Great run, all in all, for our [Roush Fenway Keselowski Racing] No. 6 Hawaiian Ford Mustang. We were right there. Glad a Ford won. It was a heck of a battle. The coolest thing about this is two veterans showed that you can run a race here, side by side, bump drafting and not wreck the field. I think that’s the coolest thing. It can happen if you race respectfully and I thought everybody did a great job. We were right there. Proud of my team and the effort. Just not much we could do there. You just keep running like this and the good finishes and the wins will come.”
“Whenever [Logano] and [Keselowski] got side by side, I felt like I lost the race,” Bell said. “Really, I think I screwed up whenever I went to the top [lane]. Coming to the white [flag] or one of those laps, I aborted on the bottom and went to the top, and gave [Logano] the bottom, which ultimately, got him the lead. That was disappointing, but ultimately, to come home third, I’m super happy with that. Great showing for our DeWalt Camry.”
“It feels great,” LaJoie said. “Fourth is great for ourselves, these Camaros and our small team. Just a great points day. We started off the year [with the] West Coast wing, really solid and to come back here, it’s a bit of a crapshoot, but to get another career best [finish] here. I don’t expect to show up and instantly win a race. You just have to keep putting yourself in these positions like Joey. That’s why he wins all the time because he’s upfront 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’s gonna come.”
“This morning was kind of a struggle for me,” Reddick said. “[I] Didn’t get really any sleep through the early hours of the morning. Just really thankful that our Xfinity Toyota Camry TRD was handling as well as it was. We had a good car. I was trying to make sure all three of us [including Denny Hamlin and Christopher Bell] could benefit from it. Unfortunately, I feel like my hesitancy cost us.”
Hamlin, Blaney, Erik Jones, rookie Ty Gibbs and Kyle Busch completed the top 10 on the track as 23 of 36 starters finished on the lead lap.
There were 20 lead changes for 13 different leaders. The race featured five cautions for 34 laps.
Following the fifth event of the 2023 Cup Series season, race winner Joey Logano leads the regular-season standings by a single point over Christopher Bell, five over Ross Chastain, 16 over Ryan Blaney, 17 over Brad Keselowski and 22 over Kevin Harvick.
1. Joey Logano, 140 laps led, Stage 1 winner
2. Brad Keselowski, 47 laps led
3. Christopher Bell, six laps led
4. Corey LaJoie
5. Tyler Reddick
6. Denny Hamlin, 14 laps led
7. Ryan Blaney, five laps led
8. Erik Jones
9. Ty Gibbs
10. Kyle Busch, seven laps led
11. Austin Cindric, five laps led, Stage 2 winner
12. Noah Gragson
13. Ross Chastain, five laps led
14. Alex Bowman
15. Todd Gilliland
16. AJ Allmendinger
17. Ricky Stenhouse Jr., seven laps led
18. Josh Berry
19. Martin Truex Jr.
20. Austin Dillon
21. Michael McDowell
22. Justin Haley
23. Ty Dillon
24. Chase Briscoe, one lap down
25. Cody Ware, two laps down, one lap led
26. JJ Yeley, two laps down
27. Bubba Wallace, five laps down
28. Ryan Preece, 16 laps down
29. Daniel Suarez – OUT, DVP
30. Aric Almirola – OUT, Accident, 17 laps led
31. Kyle Larson – OUT, Accident
32. William Byron – OUT, Accident
33. Kevin Harvick – OUT, Accident, one lap led
34. Harrison Burton – OUT, DVP
35. Chris Buescher – OUT, Accident, five laps led
36. BJ McLeod – OUT, Accident
Next on the 2023 NASCAR Cup Series schedule is Circuit of the Americas for the third annual EchoPark Automotive Grand Prix in Austin, Texas, and for the series’ first road course event of the season. The event is scheduled to occur next Sunday, March 26, at 3:30 p.m. ET on FOX.