NASCAR: Chase Elliott holds off Corey LaJoie, giving Georgian first Atlanta win
Chase Elliott got by Corey LaJoie with just under two laps to go and crossed the finish line under yellow after a block sent LaJoie crashing into the wall Sunday, giving the Georgia-born driver his first victory at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
Elliott pulled back around in front of the main grandstand, greeted by a boisterous ovation from fans who cheered loudly every time he went to the front and stretched all the way to Dawsonville, the north Georgia town that produced the winner and his father, longtime NASCAR Cup star Bill Elliott.
The wild capper to another eventful Atlanta race denied LaJoie the first victory of his career, which would’ve been a huge upset for the small-budget Spire Motorsports team.
Chase Elliott joined his father as the only Georgia-born drivers to win at Atlanta. Dale Earnhardt and Dale Earnhardt Jr. are the only other father-son to take the checkered flag at the historic 1.54-mile track.
“To win at your home track is a really big deal for any race car driver,” Elliott said. “I’ve watched a lot of guys do it over the years. I felt like today was a good opportunity for us. I’m just so proud. This is obviously home for me, and home for a lot of great fans who made a lot of noise for me today.“
Martin Truex Jr. was leading a tight pack at the front of the field when Ross Chastain caused his second wreck of the day with 14 laps to go.
Chastain, a two-time winner this season who also has made plenty of enemies with his overly aggressive driving, tapped the left rear quarter-panel of Denny Hamlin’s car. That sent the No. 11 into a spin that ruined any chance of winning.
Truex led on the restart with eight laps to go, LaJoie pulled ahead on the backstretch, but the yellow flag came out again when Hamlin was bumped again. This time, it was Christopher Bell trying to squeeze between Hamlin and Joey Logano, setting off a spin that took out all three cars.
That set up another restart with three laps to go. LaJoie led the field from the inside lane, but he couldn’t hold off Elliott, who surged to the front before taking the white flag.
LaJoie got a good run on the leader going into the first turn, but Elliott slid up the banking to cut him off. LaJoie, who has only one top-five finish in his career, ran out of room and smashed the outside wall.
Chastain looked to make a move on Elliott, but the yellow lights flashed with No. 9 still nearly a car length ahead.
That was it. Elliott could finally relax, becoming the first three-time winner in a season that has produced 13 different winners.
Tyler Reddick raced to his first NASCAR Cup Series victory Sunday while Scott McLaughlin picked up his second career IndyCar victory.
“Obviously, I knew (LaJoie) was gonna have a big run. I tried to give him one good, aggressive block,“ Elliott said. “I don’t know what else to do. You go for the win or you don’t. I’m going to choose option A every time.”
LaJoie, whose best career finish was a fifth-place showing at this year’s Atlanta spring race, nearly pulled off the most improbable victory of a wild season.
“That was fun,” he said. “It’s nice to have that thing out front for once. I made my move. It didn’t work out.”
Chastain was the runner-up, followed by Austin Cindric, Erik Jones and Ryan Blaney. LaJoie settled for the 21st spot.
The first major wreck occurred on the 91st lap, sparked by Chastain giving Martin Truex Jr. a bump from behind coming through Turn 1.
Truex’s car began spinning and seven other drivers were collected in the melee, with Austin Dillon taking the biggest hit when he slammed nearly head-on into the outside wall.
Dillon was OK, but his No. 3 Chevrolet was done for the day — another tough blow for a driver who is getting increasingly desperate for his first win of the season to stake a claim to a playoff spot.
Dillon blamed Chastain for being far too aggressive, a familiar complaint against the driver of the No. 1 machine.
“We’re just a casualty of Ross Chastain again,” Dillon said after leaving the infield care center. “You want to race hard all day, but you’ve got guys like him out there wrecking half the field.”
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