Suarez edges Busch, Blaney in three-wide photo finish at Atlanta Cup Series race

Published 10:42 pm Sunday, February 25, 2024

HAMPTON, Ga. (AP) — 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.

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“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.

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.

“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.

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 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.