William Byron wins wild NASCAR Cup race on transformed Atlanta track

It was superspeedway racing with all the trimmings.

“New” Atlanta Motor Speedway produced a fifth different 2022 winner—William Byron, who managed to keep an angry pack of drafting cars behind him for the final 10 laps of Sunday’s Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500.

In a race that produced 46 lead changes among 20 drivers—both track records—Byron crossed the finish line .109 seconds ahead of Christopher Bell and .145 seconds ahead of Ross Chastain.

Bell, however, was penalized for passing below the boundary line on the backstretch on the final lap and was demoted to 23rd, the last position on the lead lap. That elevated Chastain to his second straight runner-up finish.

Byron took the lead from Bubba Wallace on Lap 316 of 325 and held it the rest of the way.

“It was so different,” said Byron, who collected his third NASCAR Cup Series victory, his first of the season and his first at Atlanta Motor Speedway, which had undergone a major repaving and reconfiguration since the series raced at the 1.54-mile track last July.

“Honestly, the last few laps there and trying to manage the gap to Bubba and trying to not get too far out front. You know, my spotter Brandon (Lines), his first win, so congrats to him. Thanks to this whole team. They’ve done a great job this year.

“Lots of changes with the Next Gen car. The (No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports) Chevrolet was awesome there. Worked hard overnight. Had a pretty rough practice and worked hard on it and got it handling well, like I told you. It was kind of an intermediate style with a little bit of speedway into it, so a lot of fun.”

In essence, track owner Speedway Motorsports Inc. transformed an intermediate downforce track into a mini-Daytona, and NASCAR responded by mandating a superspeedway competition package for the first race on the new asphalt.

Those who doubted that the dramatic changes would produce nail-biting side-by-side racing were quickly proven wrong, as many of the race teams left the track with destroyed race cars and drivers with payback on their minds.

Byron managed to steer clear of the chaos, but Chastain did not. Leading on Lap 94 near the end of Stage 1, Chastain blew a right rear tire on his No. 1 Trackhouse Racing Chevrolet and slammed in the outside wall in Turn 2.

Chastain lost two laps for improper fueling under NASCAR’s damaged vehicle policy but regained them as the beneficiary under two straight cautions. Deft repair work by his crew kept him competitive.

“That’s the fight in Trackhouse,” Chastain said. “This Gen 7 car, to take a lick like that, blow a tire out of nowhere and leading, just cruising, blow a right rear, slam the wall. Thought our day was over. Our guys went underneath the car, got the toe closer, and we got the balance back where I could drive it.

“And just the Chevy was fast. It was so fast. I mean, we were fighting with Will there at the beginning. It’s so cool to race with buddies. I’m getting to race with my—I only have a few, but the last few weeks I’ve been able to race with my buddies.”

Like Chastain, Kurt Busch was collected in a major accident (Lap 145) but recovered to run third as the highest-finishing Toyota. Daniel Suarez was fourth, giving Trackhouse Racing—co-owned by Justin Marks and pop star Pitbull—two cars in the top five. 

Corey LaJoie came home fifth, scoring the first top five of his Cup career. Chase Elliott, Chris Buescher, Martin Truex Jr., Joey Logano and Alex Bowman completed the top 10.

All told, 28 of the 37 cars that started the race were involved in collisions. That number included Wallace, who was collected in a wreck with Justin Haley and Buescher approaching the checkered flag. Wallace finished 13th.

Notes: Three different Hendrick Motorsports drivers have won three of the first five races this season, with Kyle Larson taking the checkered flag at Fontana and Bowman taking the trophy at Las Vegas… The race featured 11 cautions for 65 laps… Byron led eight times for 111 laps. Chastain was second in laps led with 42.