Ryan Blaney produced a stunning upset Sunday, running down a dominant Kyle Larson to win the NASCAR Cup Series race at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
Kyle Larson was thoroughly dominant, winning Stage 1 and Stage 2 and leading 269 of 315 laps. Larson held a 3-second lead with 40 laps remaining, but Ryan Blaney ran him down and passed him for the lead with eight laps to go for the win. Larson finished second, followed by Alex Bowman, Denny Hamlin, Kyle Busch and Austin Dillon.
The late charge by Ryan Blaney was so surprising that Fox TV analyst Clint Bowyer declared after the race, "I honestly can't believe what just happened. I did not see that coming whatsoever."
"I was just free all day, but we made a really good change to tighten me up for the end there and it looked like Kyle was getting loose," Ryan Blaney said. "I'm happy it worked in our favor. There were a couple of long runs at the end that helped us get there."
"I hate to lead a lot of laps and lose, but we had a really good car that we brought to the track," Larson said. "Our Chevy was stupid fast for a long time. I don't know. ... I don't if we got that much worse and he got way better, and it just kinda changed up the flow of my race."
Ryan Blaney tracks down dominant Kyle Larson
Kyle Larson took the lead for the first time on Lap 31, sweeping past pole-sitter Denny Hamlin on a restart. He then proceeded to dominate the first half of the race, winning both Stage 1 and Stage 2.
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Larson lost the handle on his car late in the race, however, allowing Blaney to track him during the final, long, green-flag run.
"I think he just got a lot better there that last stage and it changed up my flow of the race a little bit," Larson said. "I could get out to such big leads and I could take care of my stuff and run the bottom, where I could take care of my tires. He was fast there and I just wanted to maintain that gap that I had so I had to run on the faster part of the race track and use my stuff up, and he was just a lot better than me late in the run."
Larson was racing for his second win this year on a 1.5-mile track after winning two weeks ago at Lasa Vegas Motor Speedway. Ryan Blaney, meanwhile, got off to a slow start this year before finishing in the top 10 in the last two races.
Ryan Blaney emerged as Larson's top challenger in the middle of the race and ran second throughout Stage 3. He became the sixth different winner in six races this season and the first of the three Team Penske drivers to win a race. Ryan Blaney is teammates with former Cup champions Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano.
"I'm proud of this whole group," Ryan Blaney said. "We have run good this year but had some bad breaks. It's nice to close out the race there."
The win by Ryan Blaney was the fifth of his career and marked the fifth straight season that he has won a race.
Ryan Blaney celebrated the win by giving the checkered flag to a young fan in the grandstands.
Defending series champion and hometown favorite Chase Elliott had a disappointing day on his home track. Elliott, from nearby Dawsonville, Ga. and the son of Hall of Famer Bill Elliott, started at the rear of the field after a prerace inspection issue, but quickly raced his way into the top 10. He damaged the nose of his car, however, during a crash on the restart for Stage 2.
With gash in the front of his car, Elliott struggled in Stage 2 and his engine finally blew up on Lap 219.
"I think we broke a motor," Elliott said.
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Kevin Harvick, a three-time winner at Atlanta, had trouble early, suffering a flat tire that forced him to pit twice under the competition caution. He lost a lap, and then went a lap down again when Larson, the leader, passed him on the track.
Kurt Busch, another three-time Atlanta winner, was running in the top five when he crashed on a restart on Lap 90. Kyle Busch, Kurt's brother, spun his tires on the restart, causing the field to check up behind him and Hamlin to ram into the back of Kurt Busch's car. Kurt Busch spun and slammed into the wall, knocking him out of the race.