I saw something beautiful on Sunday (March 19).
It wasn’t the first two stages of the NASCAR Cup Series race at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
It definitely wasn’t whatever Denny Hamlin saw in that Port-a-Potty afterward.
In between all that?
I typically have two wishes before any NASCAR race on a superspeedway-style track.
1) I don’t want to see any harm befall a competitor in a nasty wreck, the kind we’ve all become too familiar with in the last 25 years.
2) Please, please, please, can we have a long green-flag run to the checkered flag?
Oh boy, did the AmBetter 400 deliver.
When making my superspeedway wishes, I’m usually only asking for 10-12 laps of green-flag action to end a race.
I don’t feel like that’s a selfish wish. I’m not trying to be greedy.
As the laps ticked down Sunday afternoon, as each circuit of the unnecessarily revamped 1.5-mile track was completed, the question crept into my mind:
Are they actually going to do it?
Narrator: They did.
For 44 laps, the remaining drivers in the field kept their heads on straight.
For 44 laps, nobody wrecked.
We’ve been given enough reasons to believe it wasn’t possible, at least at Atlanta.
Both the NASCAR Craftsman Truck and Xfinity series set track records for cautions on Saturday, and both Cup races at Atlanta in 2022 ended with last-lap wrecks.
But on Sunday, it happened.
“(A late-race caution) happens every time,” race winner Joey Logano said afterward. “If you watched the Truck and Xfinity race[s], you would probably bet on it [that] there was going to be a caution at the end of the this thing. There were a few, but they never ended up being big crashes. Everybody did a good job at avoiding them.”
Logano credited, at least in part, a different setup for cars at Atlanta compared to the 2.5-mile Daytona International Speedway and the 2.66-mile Talladega Superspeedway.
“I think one of the biggest things is everybody bolts a lot more grip into their car when they come here compared to Daytona or Talladega,” Logano said. “They have their cars trimmed out more. The cars are able to take a push better, right? Think about how hard we were hitting each other. If you did that at Daytona, you wreck.
“Seems to me the fix is a little bit more grip allowing everybody to be able to handle their racecar. Honestly, Goodyear brought a better tire. The teams have learned a lot, too. A lot of the cautions before were from tires popping. We didn’t have that today, right?”
Aside from Aric Almirola‘s misfortune? No.
The best part of the 44-lap sprint to the finish Sunday?
We were treated to a masterclass in superspeedway racing from two of this generation’s best: Logano and Brad Keselowski.
The former Team Penske teammates kept us guessing for most of the final run.
At the white flag, I thought Keselowski had his first RFK Racing win in the bag, only for Logano to get a well-timed shove from Corey LaJoie to get by him.
“The coolest thing about this race is two veterans showed you can run a race here side-by-side, bump-drafting, and not wreck the field,” Keselowski said on pit road. “It can happen if you race respectfully. I thought everybody did a great job.”
I appreciate Keselowski’s sentiment. Though I couldn’t help but be a little amused, given his own recent track record when it comes to causing or being part of incidents on superspeedways in practice or races.
However, on Sunday, he and everybody else kept their heads straight when it counted.
But that wasn’t all.
Erik Jones put on his own last-lap show.
Days after Hamlin said on his podcast that the days of someone like Dale Earnhardt Sr. going from 18th to first in a few laps to win on a superspeedway were over, Jones gave a worthwhile impression of that feat.
In a lap that looked ripped straight from the “NASCAR Heat” challenge mode, the Legacy Motor Club driver appeared to pass roughly nine cars in one lap to finish eighth.
How about that?
Race finishes like this don’t happen often.
So I’m going to appreciate it, at least until the next 20-car pileup coming to the checkered flag.
2023 is Daniel McFadin’s 10th year covering NASCAR, with six years spent at NBC Sports. This is his third year writing columns for Frontstretch. His columns won third place in the National Motorsports Press Association awards for 2021. His work can be found at the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette and SpeedSport.com.
The podcast version of “Dropping the Hammer” is presented by the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.
About the author
Daniel McFadin is a 7-year veteran of the NASCAR media corp. He wrote for NBC Sports from 2015 to October 2020. He's currently a freelancer and lead reporter and editor for Frontstretch. He is also host of the NASCAR show "Dropping the Hammer with Daniel McFadin" on YouTube and in podcast form.
You can email him at email@example.com.
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