NASCAR: Kurt Busch takes home a family affair at Atlanta

After his team made a major announcement, Kurt Busch held off his younger brother Kyle to earn the 33rd win of his NASCAR Cup Series career.

With Vin Diesel’s Fast and Furious mantra turned meme embarking on a relentless invasion of social media, it was only appropriate that Sunday’s NASCAR Cup Series affair would take on a familial theme.

Kurt Busch, driver No. 1 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet, held off his younger brother Kyle to win the Quaker State 400 presented by Walmart at Atlanta Motor Speedway. The elder Busch made the fateful pass with just over 23 laps to go in the 260-circuit event to become the 12th different winner of the 2021 Cup Series season.

“We beat Kyle! I taught that kid everything he knows; he should be grateful,” Kurt Busch jokingly remarked, per notes from NASCAR. “What a battle. What a genuine, awesome, old-school racetrack.”

Kurt Busch’s victory comes at a crucial time for his team. All properties of Chip Ganassi Racing, including equipment and characters, were sold to Trackhouse Racing on June 30, a sale that will fully take effect after the 2021 season. Trackhouse is owned by former driver Justin Marks (who previously partook in Ganassi’s defunct Xfinity Series program, winning the 2016 Mid-Ohio event) and philanthropist/recording artist Pitbull, who field the No. 99 Chevrolet driven by Daniel Suarez.

Sunday’s event at Atlanta was thus poetic in more ways than one: Kurt Busch may have had some assistance from teammate Ross Chastain.

As the Busch brothers battled for the lead in the final stanzas, they approached Chastain’s slower No. 42. While Chastain didn’t appear to actively block Kyle, he more or less mimicked his draft, cutting off his access to clean air. Kurt was thus able to get by and build a healthy lead before his brother made one last push to no avail. The final margin of victory was 1.237 seconds.

Kyle was reportedly upset with Chastain’s apparent interference but nonetheless ventured to victory lane to congratulate his brother. Afterward, Kurt defended his teammate’s actions. Chastain is running his first season in Ganassi’s No. 42, previously piloted by Jamie McMurray, Juan Pablo Montoya, and Kyle Larson.

“He did stop by Victory Lane and do the Kyle Busch grumpy. That’s what I expected,” Kurt Busch said of Kyle’s reply. “What happened on track was the perfect scenario for a teammate to do the work that he needed to do. If I’m running third, Ross isn’t part of the equation. That was exactly what a teammate needs to do, and Ross did that in a way that gave me a sense of pride in the education and the mentorship that I have helped Ross with this year. It was a perfect give-back.”

Chastain, who finished 21st, was among the first to congratulate Busch after he crossed the start/finish line. He’ll likely need a win to join the No. 1 in the Cup Series postseason as he sits 145 points out of the final playoff spot, now held by sixth-place finisher Tyler Reddick.

“Can we do that in the playoffs? No,” Kurt Busch said. “Can you do that in a regular season where one guy has won and one guy is trying to run hard? Today was a perfect scenario for that to unfold, and Kyle will get over it pretty quick.”

“I believe that no line was crossed, and it was that right finesse to make it happen.”

The Busch brothers each took home the victories in the first two 80-lap stages of the race. Kurt, the 2004 Cup Series champion, earned the 33rd win of his career to tie Fireball Roberts for 25th place on the all-time wins list. His return to the playoffs guarantees Ganassi at least one more shot at a NASCAR championship. CGR has earned 18 major racing championships (including nine in IndyCar) but none at the NASCAR level, its closest attempt coming in 2001 with Sterling Marlin (3rd).

Busch’s victory, his first since last September at his home track of Las Vegas and his fourth all-time at AMS (most amongst active drivers), also comes at the final NASCAR event at Atlanta before the track is repaved and reconfigured for next year’s visit. The old surface required repairs shortly after the end of the second stage, necessitating a red flag period that lasted about 20 minutes.

Martin Truex Jr. finished third, while Alex Bowman and Ryan Blaney rounded out the top five.

The NASCAR Cup Series returns to action on July 18, as the Foxwoods Resort Casino will be held at New Hampshire Motor Speedway (3 p.m. ET, NBCSN).

For full Sunday results, click here

For full standings, click here

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

NASCAR: Ryan Blaney steals win from Kyle Larson at Atlanta

Kyle Larson’s dominance was of no concern to Ryan Blaney, who became the sixth different NASCAR Cup Series winner this season.

Kyle Larson led 269 of 325 laps on Sunday afternoon at Atlanta Motor Speedway’s NASCAR Cup Series event. Alas for Larson and his No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet, the final circuit was not one of them.

Ryan Blaney passed Larson with nine to go, earning a victory in the Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500. Blaney, driver of the No. 12 Team Penske Ford, becomes the sixth different winner in six events this season. Larson finished second ahead of Alex Bowman, Denny Hamlin, and Kyle Busch.

“I’m glad I’m one of them!” a smiling Blaney said about joining the other five winners in relative playoff safety. As for the parity, Blaney added “It just goes in the off-season of prep work, how you’re going to unload, show up to race We’ve probably never seen this. I don’t know when there were six different winners in the first six races. It just shows that a lot of great teams are out there and you have to be on top of your game. It just shows how many people can win.”

Blaney and the rest of the field found themselves staring at Larson’s back bumper for a good portion of the day. Larson first took the lead after a competition caution at lap 25 from the pole sitter Hamlin and expanded his to as high as ten-plus seconds as the afternoon played out. Save for brief reprieves during green flag pit stops, Larson led for the next 189 laps, allowing him to earn victories in the first stages, consisting of 105 circuits apiece.

The No. 12 team first flexed their muscles on lap 220, when Larson teammate Chase Elliott’s car began smoking. On the ensuing pit stops, Blaney emerged first after a strong stop. He was forced to relinquish the lead to remove some debris from his grill by using the draft behind Larson. The No. 5 kept the lead after the pit cycle but Blaney was able to chase him down through a strong stop and taking care of his tires on Atlanta’s seasoned surface. Blaney made the pass with nine laps to go and stretched it out to a second to earn a victory.

“He had a huge lead there in that second stage, then he didn’t really get that far out in front of me in the start of the third stage,” Blaney recalled. “Then we were running him down pretty good until we pitted there. He got a little bit ways away from me on pit road after we came out. He stretched his lead out a tiny bit. I was like, All right, it’s going to be a 50-plus-lap run, I’m going to try to save my stuff a little bit.”

“The guys did a great job getting me out there ahead of him. They were holding off for a little bit, but he was just so good on the short run there.”

Blaney’s besting of Larson continued some unusual trends on the NASCAR spectrum. Each of Blaney’s five Cup Series victories has come through a victorious pass of the leader with less than ten laps to go while Larson has never won a race in which he has won each of the first two stages.

The win also held personal significance to Blaney, whose father Dave ran at the Cup level for parts of 17 seasons. While the elder Blaney never had the best equipment to work with, he came close to a victory two decades prior at AMS while driving the No. 93 Dodge for Bill Davis Racing. Dave led 70 laps but lost a tire and was relegated to 34th.

With fans welcomed into Atlanta at the highest rate allowed by the state of Georgia, Dave was in attendance to see his son earn the victory.

“I don’t know how solar cycles line up, every 20 years, I don’t know. (But I’m) happy we were able to avenge that loss on him,” Ryan Blaney said. “Whether it’s a stern talking to or it’s careful advice, I’ve always enjoyed talking to him, hearing what he’s got to say. Just him being around means a lot. I grew up watching dad race. Now I’m racing full-time in NASCAR. He’s watching me. That’s pretty cool.”

The NASCAR Cup Series will return to Atlanta for the Quaker State 400 presented by Wal-Mart on July 11.

As a former sprint car racer and World of Outlaws champion, Dave will likely have some helpful advice for his son with next weekend’s event looming. For the first time in over five decades, the Cup Series will race on dirt, heading to a modified version of Bristol Motor Speedway next Sunday afternoon (3:30 p.m. ET, Fox). Qualifying races will be held the Saturday beforehand (6 p.m. ET, FS1).

Race Notes

  • Kurt Busch was relegated to a last-place finish in 39th after Denny Hamlin got into the back of him on the restart after the second stage.

 

  • Elliott’s DNF was his first since the latter half of the Dover doubleheader last August.

 

  • Daniel Suarez helped Trackhouse Racing earn its first stage point with a 10th-place finish in the second segment, but a late speeding penalty on pit road pushed him back to 17th.

 

  • Defending Xfinity Series champion and current points leader Austin Cindric finished 22nd in his second career Cup Series event and his first since the season-opening Daytona 500. Cindric, who drives Team Penske’s No. 22 in the lower level, will take over the No. 21 Wood Brothers Ford next season.

For full results, click here

For full standings, click here

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

NASCAR: Kevin Harvick dominates the final stage of another win in Atlanta

Martin Truex Jr. won the first two stages, but Kevin Harvick led all but three of the final 108 laps to win NASCAR’s yearly visit to Atlanta.

Time will tell when Trae Young and Matt Ryan are allowed to provide the Atlanta area some clutch fourth quarter antics again. Kevin Harvick was more than happy to fill the quota on Sunday at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

The driver of the No. 4 Stewart-Haas Ford led all but three of the Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500’s final 108 circuits en route to his second win of the 2020 NASCAR Cup Series campaign. His second win of season, both coming during NASCAR’s ongoing return from the coronavirus-induced pause, has now afforded him a 48-point cushion in the Cup Series points standings.

Harvick previously won The Real Heroes 400 last month at Darlington Raceway.

Atlanta has always been a special place for Harvick. The 1.5-mile oval played host to Harvick’s first Cup Series victory back in 2001. Then driving the No. 29 Chevrolet for Richard Childress Racing, it was only his third start in NASCAR’s premier division after replacing the late Dale Earnhardt Sr. in his rebranded No. 3 car. Harvick held off Jeff Gordon by .006 seconds to secure the emotional win.

No such dramatics were needed on Sunday. After leading 46 laps during the opening stage, Harvick retook the top spot from Kyle Busch on a semi-permanent basis at the onset of the third stage. The three-lap mercy was granted only when Harvick made his final pit stop on lap 269 of 325, forcing him to briefly relinquish the lead to Ryan Blaney and Joey Logano. He would retake first place after the two fellow Fords made their own stops for service and faced little resistance en route to victory lane with a 3.527-margin over the aforementioned Busch.

Harvick commemorated his latest win as he did his first, wielding three fingers from his car as he made a victory lap around the track to pay tribute to Earnhardt. The seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion passed away in a crash on the final lap of the 2001 Daytona 500. Overall, Harvick has now won three races at Atlanta, the second coming in March 2017. 

The newest Atlanta triumph was historic in several ways. For one thing, it came as Harvick’s crew chief, Rodney Childers, celebrated his 44th birthday. They have been paired up since they each joined Stewart-Haas Racing in 2014. Together, they have finished the final standings’ top three in all but one of their six full seasons, the first of which ended with the Cup Series title. 

Additionally, Harvick’s 51st Cup Series victory earns him sole possession of 12th-place on the circuit’s all-time wins list. He was previously tied with NASCAR Hall of Famers Ned Jarrett and Junior Johnson.

Martin Truex Jr. won the first two stages of the race, his first pair of the season. He finished third after a hard-fought battle with his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Busch, while Blaney and another Gibbs Toyota, that of Denny Hamlin, rounded out the top five.

The NASCAR Cup Series will quickly return to action, as series travels to Martinsville Speedway for the Blue-Emu Maximum Pain Relief 500 on Wednesday night (7 p.m. ET, FS1). Martinsville’s starting lineup will be determined by a tiered draw based on car owner points.

Race Notes

  • Prior to the start of Sunday’s race, NASCAR addressed the ongoing nationwide protests against systematic racism and police brutality against African-Americans. With each of the 40 participating cars stopped at the start/finish line, NASCAR President Steve Phelps addressed both drivers and fans about the current events, encouraging action in fighting racism. “Our country is in pain and people are justifiably angry, demanding to be heard,” Phelps said. “The black community and all people of color have suffered in our country, and it has taken far too long for us to hear their demands for change. Our sport must do better. Our country must do better.”
  • After Phelps’ speech, several renowned drivers appeared in a video urging fans to take action in the battle for justice and equality.
  • Bubba Wallace, the only African-American driver on the Cup Series level, was seen sporting a shirt bearing the words “I Can’t Breathe” and an American flag face mask during the prerace ceremonies. The shirt’s words refer to Eric Garner and George Floyd, African-American victims of police brutality six years apart. Members of Wallace’s No. 43 Richard Petty Motorsports Chevrolet crew were also seen holding the shirts.
  • After finishing 21st on Sunday, Wallace appeared to faint during separate interviews with Fox Sports’ Jamie Little, an apparent result of exhaustion and dehydration. Wallace was later examined and released from the infield care center.
  • Kurt Busch (brother of Kyle) was forced serve a pass-through penalty on pit road after his No. 1 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet failed prerace inspection three times. Busch lost a lap, but earned it back prior to a competition caution on lap 25. He would go on to recover and finish sixth.
  • In addition to the competition caution, only four other yellow flags came out on Sunday. Two signaled the end of the first two stages, while the others accounted for separate spins from Front Row Motorsports teammates John Hunter Nemechek (lap 96) and Michael McDowell (lap 203).
  • B.J. McLeod (clutch) and Timmy Hill (electrical) were the only two cars that failed to finish the race.

For full race results, click here

For full standings, click here

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags