Ryan Blaney dug in over the long run in the final stage at Atlanta Motor Speedway, and it paid off with a victory in the Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500.
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Blaney caught and passed the day’s dominant driver, Kyle Larson, with eight laps to go. Blaney went to the top lane in Turns 3 and 4 to get a run on Larson and made the pass down the frontstretch. He led 25 laps en route to the win, his first of the season, first at Atlanta, and the fifth of his NASCAR Cup Series career.
“Gosh, we had a great long run car all day,” Blaney said. “It took us a little bit to get going. I was pretty free all day, so we made a really good change to tighten me up where I needed it, and it looked like Kyle [Larson] was getting loose, and I’m happy it worked in our favor that there was a couple long runs at the end that kind of let us get there.
“He got slowed up behind some lap traffic, but I’m really proud of this whole BodyArmor, Menards No. 12 group. We’ve been good this year and had some bad breaks, and it’s nice to close out a race like that. That was awesome.”
.@Blaney was tracking down @KyleLarsonRacin for a long time and pounced when the moment was right! pic.twitter.com/ZZHkdVjDyf
— NASCAR (@NASCAR) March 21, 2021
Larson finished second after leading 269 of 325 laps and winning the first two stages. On the last run, Larson credited Blaney with having gotten his car better and messing with the flow of Larson’s race.
“Hate to lead a lot of laps and lose, but really good car we brought to the track,” Larson said.
Larson and Blaney were the top two for much of the second half of the afternoon. Under caution on lap 221 when Chase Elliott had a mechanical failure, Blaney’s team help him beat Larson off pit road to take the top spot, and Blaney led the 15 laps before having to clear the trash off his grille.
Going into tire save mode after losing the lead until the final pit stop, Blaney was 2.1 seconds behind Larson when the run to the finish began. As Larson started to fight his car and try to put Blaney’s Team Penske teammate, Joey Logano, a lap down, Blaney closed the gap and was at Larson’s bumper with nine laps to go. The winning pass came a lap later.
Alex Bowman finished third, Denny Hamlin finished fourth, and Kyle Busch finished fifth.
Hamlin led the first 27 laps from the pole before being overtaken by Larson. Larson would lose the lead only during green-flag pits stops the rest of the day, and then when Blaney beat him off pit road and then for the win.
Austin Dillon finished sixth, Chris Buescher finished seventh, William Byron finished eighth, Martin Truex Jr. finished ninth, and Kevin Harvick finished 10th.
Harvick entered the day having won last year at Atlanta, but his was a long day. Harvick was running inside the top 10 when he had to pit on lap 30 for a flat left-rear tire as the field was coming to the green flag for a restart following a competition caution.
Six winners. pic.twitter.com/l9KHOxcRwb
— NASCAR (@NASCAR) March 21, 2021
Harvick initially stayed on the lead lap, but an ill-handling car eventually put his No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing team behind. He fought the rest of the day to regain his lap, eventually needing to take the wave around under the lap 221 caution.
Blaney is the sixth different winner in six races this season. Sunday was the fifth straight Atlanta win for Ford.
There were five cautions during the race and 11 lead changes among six drivers.