Race Weekend Central

Have You Ever?

HAMPTON, Ga. — No, I have never.

After a dull Saturday (Feb. 24) between the NASCAR Xfinity and Craftsman Truck series races at Atlanta Motor Speedway, Sunday’s (Feb. 25) Cup Series race was anything but.

Fans were treated to 48 lead changes (an Atlanta record), constant battles at the front of the field, constant action through the pack and — for a brief moment — four-wide racing.

The intensity only continued to pick up as the laps ticked down. There was a five-lap shootout to decide the finish, and with the checkered flag in sight, it was Ryan Blaney, Kyle Busch and Daniel Suarez three-wide, nose-to-nose and neck-and-neck as the trio barreled through turn 4 toward the stripe.

The three crossed the line, and the finish was too close to call on first glance. Video review plus timing and scoring soon confirmed Suarez and the No. 99 Trackhouse Racing Team as the winners by the razor-thin margin of 0.003 seconds over Blaney.

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Three one-thousandths of a second. Not only was the third-closest finish in Cup history, but it was third-place Busch who crossed the stripe seven one-thousandths after Suarez.

Three cars, all within one one-hundredth of a second. What more is there to say about what the NASCAR world was treated to this Sunday night.

“It was so damn close, man, it was so damn close,” Suarez told FOX. “You know, it was good racing. Ryan Blaney there, Kyle Busch, Austin Cindric also did a great job giving me pushes there. In the back of the straightaway [Cindric] didn’t push me because he knew that I was going to fight his teammate.

“Man, what a job. We wrecked lap 2. They did an amazing job fixing this car, so, I can’t think everyone enough. Trackhouse Racing, Freeway Insurance, Chevrolet, all the Mexican fans here. Woo! Let’s go!”

But for every sweet victory, there are bitter defeats.

Busch, whose last Cup win at Atlanta came in 2013, was the man in the middle during the three-wide run to the checkered.

“I got a little too far ahead of the No. 99, he got a good side draft through the corner,” Busch said. “I didn’t think the outside would prevail, but with the run down the frontstretch and the side draft, that’s what hurt us. But I was looking at the No. 12 (Blaney), I swore I was ahead of the No. 12 at the line, but obviously my eyes are bad, so I need more powerful glasses, I guess.”

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“Towards the end, you don’t really have that many alliances,” Busch said. “All of my friends just kind of just disintegrated and went away throughout the day. But Bubba [Wallace] came to the rescue, and he was a huge part of our success there off of [turn] 2 and down the backstretch and getting a run. Getting alongside Blaney was a tight fit, but being able to make that move, if I didn’t make that move, then I push Blaney out too far through [turns] 3 and 4 and he wins. So, glad to see a Chevy in victory lane.”

Blaney, the defending Cup champion, took the white flag as the leader and look to have the lead under control until the field entered turn 3.

“I don’t think I really did anything different those last few laps,” Blaney said. “I thought I managed both lanes okay. … I thought I was kind of laying back right in the middle of [turns] 1 and 2 to kind of get everyone close to where they were close enough off of [turn] 2 to where I could kind of get some energy from them when they didn’t have too big of a run.

“I don’t know, both lanes just got massive runs out of [turn] 4, like the top kind of got a big run, but the No. 99 was late to me, and I could kind of guess where he was going and stall them out … but I don’t know where to go, I mean, I guess I could have just bailed at the top and made the No. 99 hit me in the ass, but it all happened so quick.”

Blaney, who knows a thing or two about winning photo finishes himself, said he can’t complain about losing by so little.

“I’ve won them by two or three feet, so you’re going to be on both ends of it,” Blaney said. “Honestly, I’ve gotten pretty fortunate by being on the good side of winning them by, you know, a foot or two. So, losing here tonight by a little bit, it’s still a good run. I’m happy for Daniel, that’s cool to see him win one. It was fun racing with him, he’s a great guy. So yeah, can’t complain too much when they’re close like this, and hopefully the fans enjoyed it, that was a hell of a great race.”

The Cup Series is packing its bags for Las Vegas Motor Speedway next Sunday (March 3). But while NASCAR won’t return to Atlanta for another seven months, the track produced a moment and finish that will live forever.

About the author

Stephen Stumpf is the NASCAR Content Director for Frontstretch, and his weekly columns include “Stat Sheet” and “4 Burning Questions.” Stephen also writes commentary, contributes weekly to the “Bringing the Heat” podcast and is frequently at the track for on-site coverage. A native of Texas, Stephen began following NASCAR at age 9 after attending his first race at Texas Motor Speedway.

Follow on Twitter @stephen_stumpf.

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Tom B

A great race!
Can we all stop whining about how boring 1 1/2 mile ovals are. It’s the perfect size for viewing. Every seat is a good seat. Hats off to Bruton Smith and son for the improvements they made to Atlanta Motor Speedway. This should of been a sell out, a perfect day for racing. Is NASCAR pricing the tickets to high?

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