Wednesday, May 31, 2023|
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HAMPTON, Ga. — Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski gave Atlanta and NASCAR a rare clean last-lap battle.
For a change there were no late wrecks. No overtime. Just a clean finish between hard racers.
Logano dominated early and then passed Keselowski on the final lap to win NASCAR’s race at Atlanta Motor Speedway on Sunday and end the early season domination of Chevrolet and Hendrick Motorsports.
Logano won the pole and led a strong showing of three straight Team Penske drivers in qualifying, but Keselowski looked like the Ford driver to beat late in the race. Keselowski had help from Corey LaJoie, but Logano got a push from Christopher Bell that proved decisive on the final lap.
“It was lane versus lane, that’s what it was, inside versus outside,” Logano said, adding it was natural to expect that conflict would inevitably lead to contact.
“Yeah, because it happens just about every time,” Logano said of Cup drivers propensity to wreck late in races.
Bell finished third in a Toyota and LaJoie finished a career-best fourth in a Chevrolet.
“The first win of the season always feels better,” said Logano, the reigning Cup champion, who led 141 of the 260 laps.
Logano’s win ended a streak of four consecutive victories by Chevrolet to open the NASCAR Cup season, including back-to-back wins by William Byron of Hendrick.
Pushed by his Team Penske teammates Ryan Blaney and Austin Cindric, Logano passed Keselowski to regain the lead with 34 laps to go. Keselowski regained the lead to setup the last-lap drama.
“The bottom row came with a huge run,” said Keselowski. “I don’t know how and I thought I had it blocked and Joey just kept shaking and his car didn’t stall out. I couldn’t get the push down the back. We were right there. I’m glad a Ford won. It was a heck of a battle.”
It was Logano’s first win at the track he calls his second home. Logano is from Middletown, Connecticut. He calls NASCAR’s facility in Loudon, New Hampshire his home track, but Logano’s family moved to Georgia when he was a child. He competed in Legends races at Atlanta Motor Speedway as a child who dreamed of driving on the big track.
“We’ve been so close so many times here and to finally get a win here means so much,” he said.
After no cautions during the second stage, the competition — and crashes — picked up late in the race.
Kevin Harvick, who won in Atlanta in 2001, 2018 and 2020, was leading late when he lost control while being pushed by Ross Chastain. Replays indicated Chastain’s Chevrolet didn’t hit Harvick’s Ford, but Harvick’s spin caused a major crash.
“I think he was just so close to me he caught me right in the corner,” Harvick said of Chastain. “The way he came from right to left took the car away from me.”
Another wreck involving the leaders followed 20 laps later when Aric Almirola blew a tire, causing a spin that also took out Kyle Larson and Daniel Suarez.
Hendrick Motorsports’ four drivers had fill-in crew chiefs following the largest combined fine on one team in series history for modifying air-deflecting pieces last weekend at Phoenix Raceway. Hendrick was issued a combined $400,000 in fines along with four-race suspensions for the crew chiefs.
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