HAMPTON, Ga. (Sept. 20, 2018) – All of Ryan Blaney’s NASCAR Cup Series wins have come with a move in the final 10 laps of a race.
The 27-year-old did it for a fifth time Sunday, ripping the victory away from Kyle Larson with eight laps to go in the Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
Blaney’s previous best finish at the 1.5-mile quad-oval track was fourth. He started 10th and lurked until he found an opening to pounce.
“Gosh, we had a great long-run car all day,” Blaney said. “It took us a little bit to get going, but I was pretty free all day. We made a really good change to tighten me up where I needed it and it looked like Kyle was getting loose.
“I’m happy it worked in our favor that there were a couple long runs at the end that helped us get there. We’re been good this year and had some bad breaks so it’s nice to close out a race like that. That was awesome.”
Larson led 269 of the 325 laps, but quickly lost touch with Blaney once the pass was executed. He was bidding to become the first repeat winner this season. Instead, Blaney became the sixth driver to take a checkered flag.
Blaney briefly edged ahead coming out of a caution on Lap 221, but trash caught in the grill caused the third-generation driver to cede the lead back to Larson 15 laps later.
Larson, who used a quick pit to take the lead coming out of the competition caution on Lap 31, won Stage 1 by nearly seven seconds.
He also claimed Stage 2 by eight seconds and only 14 cars remained on the lead lap.
“I think (Blaney) just got a lot better there in that last stage and it changed up my flow of the race,” Larson said. “He was fast there and I just wanted to maintain that gap I had. So I had to run on the faster part of the race track and use my stuff up.
“I hate to lead a lot of laps and lose. It was a really good car we brought to the track. Our Hendricks Cars.com Chevy was stupid fast there for a long time. I don’t know if we got that much worse or he got that much better.”
Alex Bowman finished third. Denny Hamlin, the series points leader, put together his fifth top-five finish in the first six races. Hamlin was fourth.
Kyle Busch was fifth after quite a few ups and downs.
He and Chase Elliott were the big movers early.
Busch, who won the Camping World Truck Series race Saturday, started 19th and marched his way into the top five by the time the competition caution came out. Halfway through Stage 1, Busch was third. He slid past series points leader and pole sitter Denny Hamlin for second place before the stage ended.
Busch fell back to seventh following the crash of his brother, Kurt, on Lap 113. He worked his way back to fourth by the end of Stage 2 before a speeding penalty on pit row dropped him to 20th.
Elliott, the hometown star and defending Cup champion, had to start from the back of the field after failures during pre-race inspection. The No. 9 Hendrick Motorsports Chevy was slated to start fifth.
Similar issues last week in Phoenix forced the 25-year-old from Dawsonville to work his way through the field and Elliott finished fifth.
He chipped away at the pack, getting to the middle in just eight laps and cracking the top 10 on Lap 37.
But Elliott had to battle to remain on the lead lap as Stage 2 ended and, on Lap 220, a blown motor ended his day.
“I hate it for sure,” Elliott said. “We feel like our car was pretty decent. We drove up there and got up in the top 10. So I felt like we were in a decent position to work on it throughout the day.
“But I appreciate all the effort. It was great to be home in Georgia. I wish we could have had a good result. We’ll try again at Bristol.”
Kurt Busch was knocked out on Lap 113 when the first four rows got bunched up going to green. Elliot, who had gained four spots under caution to move into fourth, and Hamlin had minor abrasions. Kurt Busch got the worst of it, by far, spinning up into the wall and sustaining day-ended damage.
“This hurts the worst because we had a top-5 car,” Kurt Busch said. “Like, dude, it’s a restart. Chill.”
Kevin Harvick, who had won two of the last three Atlanta races, and Kurt Busch also suffered some tough luck.
Harvick was the defending champ, winning with no fans in the stands due to the pandemic last June, but a flat tire during the competition caution spoiled his day. Harvick battled to stay on the lead lap until Larson scooted past him on Lap 74.
He got an opening late in the race to get the lap back and fought his way to a 10th-place finish.
Also among the top 10 were Austin Dillon, Chris Buescher, William Byron and Martin Truex Jr.
The NASCAR Cup Series returns to Atlanta Motor Speedway July 11th for the Quaker State 400 presented by Walmart. Tickets are available online at atlantamotorspeedway.com.