Photo: Alex Slitz/Getty Images via NASCAR

Atlanta Gets Its Mojo Back with Spectacular Three-Wide Finish

By David Morgan, Associate Editor

Atlanta Motor Speedway is back.

In the early 2000’s, the 1.5-mile quad-oval earned a reputation for delivering photo finishes with three of the closest finishes in NASCAR Cup Series coming over a span from 2000 to 2005. However, as the pavement aged, the track’s tendency for those types of finishes faded with it.

Enter the 2022 season and a reconfiguration masterminded by Speedway Motorsports CEO Marcus Smith, which ramped up the banking in the turns and narrowed the racing surface to transform the track into a hybrid between an intermediate track and a superspeedway.

Three years into the reconfiguration, the track has put on some exciting races, but Sunday’s Ambetter Health 400 was a turning point that seemed to take the track to a whole new level of excitement, delivering a race reminiscent of those early 2000’s races, but better.

Throughout the course of the 260-lap affair, drivers were constantly running two, three, and even four wide at points as they jockeyed for position. The result was an Atlanta record 48 lead changes and 10 cautions – the last of which set up the instant classic of a finish that was to come.

Daniel Suarez and Ryan Blaney would line up on the front row for the final restart, with Kyle Busch and Martin Truex, Jr. rolling off from the second row with five laps to go.

Suarez and Blaney ran side-by-side once the green flag dropped before Blaney was able to assert himself into the lead as Suarez, Busch, and Blaney’s Team Penske teammate Austin Cindric all tried to position themselves to make a run at him for the finish.

On the final lap, Blaney, Busch, and Suarez fell into a three-wide formation when Busch shot to the middle off a push from Bubba Wallace. It would be one of these three men that would bring home the trophy – the only question would be who.

With no help from behind for any of them, it would be a simple matter of who had the momentum off Turn 4 to get to the line first.

As they crossed the line three abreast, a case could have been made for any of them to be the victor, but after a review of the data in the booth, Suarez was declared the winner by .003 seconds over Blaney, with Busch finishing .007 seconds in arears.

The third-closest finish in NASCAR Cup Series history.

Now when replays of the best Atlanta finishes are shown in the future, the February 25, 2024 race has earned the right to join the likes of the other classic Atlanta finishes of the past – the March 2000 finish between Dale Earnhardt, Sr. and Bobby Labonte, the March 2001 finish between Kevin Harvick and Jeff Gordon and the March 2005 finish between Carl Edwards and Jimmie Johnson.

And the story of Atlanta Motor Speedway is only getting started.

In a little more than six months’ time, the Cup Series will be rolling back into Atlanta to start the Playoffs, a move that when announced late last year was bemoaned throughout the industry, with many in the driving corps blasting the need of having a second superspeedway race in the postseason.

After Sunday’s finish, odds are that they will be singing a different tune.

Tags : , , , , ,

David Morgan is the Associate Editor for Motorsports Tribune. A 2008 graduate from the University of Mississippi, David has followed NASCAR since the early 90’s and became hooked at an early age after attending his first race at Talladega Superspeedway in 1993. He has traveled across the country since 2012 to cover some of the most prestigious events both IndyCar and NASCAR have to offer, with an aim to only expand on that in the near future.