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    Sunday, April 21, 2024

    Daniel Suarez edges Blaney, Busch in thrilling 3-wide finish to claim Cup Series win at Atlanta

    Daniel Suarez reacts after winning the NASCAR auto race at Atlanta Motor Speedway Sunday, Feb. 25, 2024, in Hampton , Ga. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)
    Daniel Suarez (99), left, edges out Kyle Busch (8), center, and Ryan Blaney (12) at the finish line to win during the NASCAR auto race at Atlanta Motor Speedway Sunday, Feb. 25, 2024, in Hampton, Ga. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

    Hampton, Ga. — Daniel Suarez hoped but wasn't certain he was the winner after the closest finish ever at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

    Then came the photo evidence: Suarez edged Ryan Blaney and Kyle Busch in a three-wide blur at the line to win a crashed-filled NASCAR Cup Series race on Sunday.

    The second career win in 253 Cup races for Suarez set off a celebration that included a long series of congratulations from other drivers for the popular native of Monterrey, Mexico.

    "It was a very special moment," said Suarez, who entered this contract year with his future seemingly uncertain with Trackhouse Racing.

    "I was just hoping. I saw the tower and thought I was first. I thought I had it but then they said there was a review."

    The review confirmed the first win for Suarez since June 2022 at Sonoma. It was his first victory on a speedway, but he said he's not satisfied after locking up a spot in the playoffs in only the second race of the year.

    "Some people actually told me you can relax, now you're in the playoffs," Suarez said. "Hell no! My goal is to win more than one race. This is not relaxing here. ... The goal is for you to not be surprised when the 99 is in victory lane."

    Busch, who won Saturday's Trucks race, moved to the middle between Blaney, the 2023 Cup champion, and Suarez to set up the dramatic finish. Blaney was second, only 0.003 seconds behind, and Busch was third.

    "It was fun racing, but just a couple inches short," Blaney said. "I'm happy for Daniel, though. That was fun racing him and Kyle. That was fun."

    Suarez gave credit to Busch, another Chevrolet driver, for providing a late push.

    "It's good to see Daniel get a win," Busch said. "We were helping each other being Chevy team partners and working together there. Shows that when you do have friends and you can make alliances that they do seem to work, and that was a good part of today."

    A massive pileup of at least 16 cars on the second lap was the biggest in the history of Atlanta Motor Speedway and set the pace for a procession of wrecks. The crash left many cars heavily taped for the remainder of the afternoon.

    The intensity picked up when Austin Cindric went to the bottom of the track in his Team Penske Ford for a four-wide pass to take the lead with 50 laps remaining.

    Michael McDowell, who on Saturday won his first pole in his 467th start, won the first stage but collided with Daytona 500 champion William Byron while trying to slow down to enter pit row in the second stage. McDowell suffered right front damage and each car fell one lap behind before McDowell made his way back to the lead midway through the final stage. He finished eighth.

    The close finish

    In addition to Atlanta's closest finish, it was the closest finish at any 1.5-mile track and the third-closest Cup finish since electronic scoring was established in 1993.

    There were 10 cautions and an Atlanta-record 48 lead changes.

    Gilliland’s best race

    Todd Gilliland led 58 laps, the most of his career and especially notable for a third-year driver who led a combined 11 laps in his first two seasons. He finished 26th.

    The 23-year-old Gilliland, a North Carolina native, looked at home on the Atlanta track with a "Georgia Peanuts" logo on the hood of his Front Row Motorsports Ford.

    Logano, Elliott start at back

    After qualifying second on Saturday, Joey Logano had to start at the back of the field and serve a pass-through penalty for a safety violation with his gloves. Chase Elliott, who qualified 28th, also was pushed to the back row, one spot ahead of Logano, following unapproved adjustments to the engine sensor on his Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet.

    Two Ford drivers for Stewart-Haas Racing, Noah Gragson and Ryan Preece, had items from their cars confiscated for inspection on Friday. Rulings from NASCAR could come next week.

    Elliott, who earned his first win at his Atlanta home track in 2022, started stage 3 in fourth place. Elliott was eighth when he was tapped from behind by Ross Chastain's Chevrolet and sent into a spin that ended his hopes of winning.

    Lap 2 melee

    Suarez was part of the 16-car pileup at the start of the second lap. Josh Williams' Chevrolet was taken to the garage while expected contenders Alex Bowman, Austin Dillon, Tyler Reddick, Elliott, Bubba Wallace and Christopher Bell also remained in the race with damaged vehicles.

    The beneficiary was Logano, who served his pass-through penalty during the caution and emerged in 20th place at the restart. Logano's dramatic recovery continued as he was 12th at the end of the first stage, won by McDowell.

    Logano's luck ran out on the final lap of Stage 2 when he drifted into the path of Chris Buescher's Ford and Hamlin's Toyota. Cindric won the stage.

    Up next

    The Cup Series moves to Las Vegas next weekend.

    NASCAR drivers Austin Dillon (3), Bubba Wallace (23), Alex Bowman (48), Tyler Reddick (45), Noah Gragson (10), Brad Keselowski (6) and Christopher Bell (20) crash during the NASCAR auto race at Atlanta Motor Speedway Sunday, Feb. 25, 2024, in Hampton , Ga. (AP Photo/Russell Norris)
    Chris Buescher (17) slides down the track during the NASCAR auto race at Atlanta Motor Speedway Sunday, Feb. 25, 2024, in Hampton , Ga. (AP Photo/Skip Williams)
    Kyle Busch (8) drives into Turn One during the NASCAR auto race at Atlanta Motor Speedway Sunday, Feb. 25, 2024, in Hampton , Ga. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

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