Suárez Three Wide ATL Victory

Daniel Suárez

THREE WIDE FINISH WITH THE WIN MARGIN—-0.003 OF A SECOND!!

It was a race of remarkable ebb and flow.

It was a race of breathtaking four-wide action into corners not built to accommodate such derring-do.

And it was totally appropriate that Sunday’s Ambetter Health 400 NASCAR Cup Series race at Atlanta Motor Speedway would end in a three-wide photo finish, with Trackhouse Racing’s Daniel Suárez eking out a victory over Ryan Blaney by what looked to be an inch or two at the finish line.

NASCAR timing and scoring showed Suárez ahead of Blaney by 0.003 seconds at the stripe, with Kyle Busch in third, 0.007 seconds behind the race winner.

As the three drivers sped through the final two corners, Suárez held the outside lane with Blaney on the bottom and Busch in the middle. Suárez surged forward approaching the finish line to earn his second career victory—and his first since June of 2022 at Sonoma—by the thinnest of margins.

Suárez, whose No. 99 Trackhouse Race Chevrolet suffered damage to the hood on a Lap 2 crash in Turn 1, had the lead for a restart with five laps left, after the No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford of Josh Berry collided with Carson Hocevar’s No. 77 Spire Motorsports Chevrolet on Lap 249 of 260 to cause the 10th and final caution of the race.

Blaney, the defending series champion, grabbed the top spot almost immediately and held it for four laps, but Suárez and Busch mounted runs on the final lap on in the top and middle lanes, respectively. Blaney chose to make his bid for victory from the bottom lane and fell just short.

“It was so damn close, man,” said Suárez, still marveling that he was the winner. “It was so damn close. It was good racing. Ryan Blaney there, Kyle Busch, Austin Cindric also was doing a great job giving pushes. In the back straightaway he didn’t push me because he knew I was going to (screw) his teammate, but, man, what a job.

“We wrecked (on) Lap 2. The guys did an amazing job fixing this car. I can’t thank everyone enough, Trackhouse Racing, Freeway Insurance, Chevrolet, all the amazing fans here. Let’s go!”

As the final lap unfolded, Blaney was shocked at the force of the runs challenging him.

“I thought I laid back enough in (Turns) 1 and 2 to not let both lanes get that big of a run,” Blaney said. “I did that like the three laps before the end, and I was able to manage it kind of fairly well, and they just got both lanes shoving super hard. I just chose the bottom, and it was the safest place to be.

“What a cool finish. Appreciate the fans for sticking around. That’s a lot of fun. That’s always a good time when we can do that, race clean, three-wide finish to the end. Happy for Daniel. That was cool to see. Fun racing with Kyle. I can’t complain; I’ve won them by very, very little, too, so I can’t complain too much when I lose them by that much.”

To Busch, the outcome was predictable, given the positions of the cars in the final two corners.

“Yeah, typically whoever is behind getting into (Turn) 3 prevails at the start-finish line with the side draft and everything, so I was… I think I was second to the 12 (Blaney) right there, and the 99 was the furthest back, and he made the ground back up with the side draft and stuff…

“It’s good to see Daniel get a win. We were helping each other, being Chevy team partners and working together there. Shows that when you do have friends and you can make alliances that they do seem to work, and that was a good part of today.”

The start of the race was a harbinger of the wild finish.

Moments after crossing the finish line to complete the first lap of the race, Todd Gilliland checked up near the front of the field and stacked up the cars behind him. All told, 16 cars were involved, a track record for a single incident at the 1.54-mile speedway.

The machines of Alex Bowman, Tyler Reddick, Christopher Bell, Noah Gragson all sustained heavy damage. Austin Dillon and Harrison Burton, early victims in last Monday’s DAYTONA 500, both were part of the melee.

Burton was able to continue, as was Suárez who made multiple pit stops as his crew worked to repair has car. Dillon lost two laps on pit road but regained them as the beneficiary under the third and fourth cautions.

If the Lap 2 wreck was an impediment for nearly half the field, the first attempt at green-flag pit stops in Stage 2 was equally discomfiting. Pole winner Michael McDowell locked his brakes near the pit road entrance in Turn 3 and collided with DAYTONA 500 winner William Byron, costing both drivers a lap.

Speeding penalties impeded Busch, Berry, Ross Chastain, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Bubba Wallace, with Erik Jones’ crew drawing a penalty for a runaway tire. Like McDowell and Byron, those drivers all found themselves a lap down after their respective pass-throughs under green.

Through subsequent cautions, however, they regained the lead lap, and Busch raced his way into contention for the win.

Cindric finished fourth, followed by Wallace, Stenhouse, Chastain, McDowell and Chris Buescher, all of whom made commendable recoveries to earn top-10 results.

The race featured a record 48 lead changes among 14 drivers – the fifth straight race at Atlanta with more than a dozen leaders. Gilliland led a race-high 58 laps, a team record for a single race by a Front Row Motorsports driver. Cindric was out front for 32 laps, followed by Blaney (31) and Busch (28).

Suárez led twice for nine laps.

Joey Logano, the defending race winner, received unwelcome news before the start of the race. The driver of the No. 22 Ford was deemed to have violated NASCAR rule 14.3.1.1 governing driver protective clothing and equipment.

Logano’s left driving glove featured webbing between the thumb and forefinger, an unauthorized modification of SFI-approved equipment. Under an at-track penalty, Logano dropped from the second position to the rear of the field for the start and began to serve a pit-road pass-through when the pileup in Turn 1 on Lap 2 slowed the field.

The misery of others was serendipity for Logano, who completed his pass-through without losing a lap. By the end of Stage 1 he was 12th, and after the top 10 pitted during the stage break, Logano was second when Stage 2 went green.

On Lap 99, Logano passed Gilliland for the lead as part of a pack of six Fords at the front of the field. On the final lap the stage, however, Logano’s fortunes soured once again when his No. 22 Mustang pushed up the track on the backstretch and collected Chris Buescher and Denny Hamlin.

Towed to his pit stall, Logano lost eight laps and any hope he might have had of defending his 2023 victory.

The NASCAR Cup Series heads to Las Vegas Motor Speedway for the Pennzoil 400 presented by Jiffy Lube on Sunday, March 3 at 3:30 p.m. ET on FOX, PRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio.

Check out the results of the Ambetter Health 400 at Atlanta.

TIL NEXT TIME, I AM STILL WORKING ON MY REDNECK!

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