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February 25, 2024

Ryan Blaney, Kyle Busch just short in slim, three-wide Atlanta finish

HAMPTON, Ga. – By less than a hundredth of a second, both Ryan Blaney and Kyle Busch came up just shy of victory in Sunday’s dazzling NASCAR Cup Series event at Atlanta Motor Speedway, on the short end of a three-wide photo finish won by Daniel Suárez in an ever-so-slight margin.

Blaney, the defending Cup Series champion, led six times for 31 laps, but his No. 12 Team Penske Ford was just 0.003 seconds back in second place at the checkered flag in the third-closest finish in series history. Another 0.004 seconds back was Busch’s No. 8 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet, third and stuck in between Blaney’s No. 12 and Suárez’s No. 99 Trackhouse Racing Chevy.

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Daniel Suárez slips by Blaney, Busch in three-wide photo finish for Atlanta victory Daniel Suárez slips by Blaney, Busch in three-wide photo finish for Atlanta victory

“I felt great about how the race went. Just in that moment you’re like, ‘Damn. That sucks,'” Blaney said. “We just lost by three inches right? But then realize hey, it’s a good day. It’s fun racing for the lead like that. We didn’t get tore up. The competitor in you, when you lose, you’re like ‘ah’ but I had fun tonight.”

The final contest for the lead reached its boiling point when Suárez steamed forward in the upper lane, with Busch squeezing into the middle to make it a three-wide scrap entering the third turn. The trio rode three-abreast the rest of the way.

With how fast runs were being made in the draft, Blaney said there was little time to make a move quick enough to defend out front.

“I didn’t think I really did anything different than like the three laps before that when I got the lead,” Blaney said. “I thought I kind of managed both lanes OK. I didn’t think I got that far out front. I thought I kind of laid back right in the middle of (Turns) 1 and 2 to get everyone close to where they were close off of Turn 2 to where I could get some energy from them, to where they didn’t have too big of a run. Both lanes just got massive runs.

“When you got two lanes training you, I don’t know where to go. I guess I could’ve just bailed to the top and made the 99 hit me in the ass but it all happens so quick.”

Blaney has been a part of numerous photo finishes already in his Cup career, winning three different Talladega races with a largest margin of victory of 0.012 seconds over William Byron.

He’s also been on the losing side of the coin in such situations; most significantly, losing the 2020 Daytona 500 to Denny Hamlin by just a few feet as the two were side-by-side at the checkered flag.

“I can’t complain much about losing them by a handful of inches,” Blaney said. “I’ve won them by two or three feet. You’re going to be on both ends of it. Pretty fortunate to be on the good side of winning them by a foot or two so losing here tonight by a little bit, it’s still a good run.”

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Busch ran up front for the majority of the 400-mile event, leading six different times for a total of 28 laps.

“Our Cheddar’s Scratch Kitchen Chevrolet was one of the top-five cars today at Atlanta Motor Speedway and had a good shot at the win,” Busch said. “The No. 12 car was deservingly one of the faster cars, and with all the carnage, it took out some other guys early. Towards the end of the race, you don’t have that many alliances.”

Busch lost his Richard Childress Racing teammate Austin Dillon on Lap 2 as the No. 3 spun entering Turn 1, wading up 14 cars. Dillon remained in the race but only managed a 22nd-place result.

Four Chevrolets finished in the top 10 but a majority of the manufacturer’s vehicles were involved in incidents throughout the day, including Daytona 500 winner William Byron, who was caught up in a pit-road tango with Michael McDowell, after McDowell locked his brakes on pit entry.

“All of my friends disintegrated and went away throughout the day,” Busch said. “Bubba Wallace came to the rescue, and he was a huge part of our success at the end of the race coming off Turn 2 and down the backstretch to get a run. On that last restart, I just got a little too far ahead of the No. 99 car and he got a good side draft through the corner. I didn’t think the outside would prevail, but with the run down the frontstretch and the side draft, that is what hurt us. Typically, whoever is behind getting into Turn 3 prevails at the start-finish line with the side draft and everything.

“I think I was running in second place to the No. 12 car at that point, and the No. 99 car was the furthest back. He used the side draft to make the ground back up and win the race. There was nothing I could have done differently.”

While both Blaney and Busch leave Atlanta just short of glory and a guaranteed spot in the Cup Series Playoffs, the two drivers shared how happy they were to see Suárez in Victory Lane.

“It’s good to see Daniel Suárez get a win because as Chevy team partners we were helping each other and working together there,” Busch said. “It shows that when you do have friends and you can make alliances that strategy does seem to work. That was a good part of today to see that come to fruition.”

“I’m happy for Daniel. That’s cool to see him win one and was fun racing with him,” Blaney said. “He’s a great guy so can’t complain too much when you’re close like this and hopefully the fans enjoyed it. That was a hell of a damn race.”

Contributing: Staff reports