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Davidson: Larson dominates in the Atlanta Cup race – but Blaney takes the win

Atlanta, GA, Mar 21/21 (by John Davidson): Ryan Blaney drove a patient race, shadowing a dominant Kyle Larson to take the checkered flag at Atlanta Motor Speedway's Folds of Honor Quik Trip 500 in a surprising end to the day when he took the lead from Larson late and led from lap 317 to the checker at 325. This marks Blaney's fifth career win and the fifth consecutive win for Ford at the Atlanta track. Larson led 269 laps, Denny Hamlin led 27 and Blaney led only 25, with William Byron leading a pair and Kurt Busch joining Daniel Suarez in leading only a single lap each.

Kurt Busch fell out of the race after damage to his car on a lap 112 restart, attributing the incident to an accordion effect: "I think the No. 18 (Kyle Busch) was the outside-lead car. The No. 9 (Chase Elliott) kind of checked-up, too. I checked up; the No. 17 (Chris Buescher) hit us from behind. It was just the accordion effect and then I jumped to the middle. I'm like 'I'm here'; I positioned myself. It wasn't like I re-arranged my lanes and made another block.

"He didn't do anything vicious or malicious there. It's a 500-miler and these are the days that it hurts the worst. This absolutely hurts the worst because we had a top-five, winning, Monster Energy Chevy."

The same melee damaged Chase Elliott's car slightly, slowing the local favorite and possibly leading to the engine failure that ended his race on lap 220."Obviously we broke a motor there later on. We got some damage there on that restart. Kyle (Busch) kind of spun his tires and then I was pushing him and Kurt (Busch) was pushing me. We all just really jammed together hard and ended up hurting the nose some. So, I don't know if that had something to do with breaking the engine or not," he said.

"I hate it, for sure. I feel like our car was pretty decent. We drove up there – we got up to tenth, or so, at the Stage. I felt like we were in a decent position to work on it throughout the day. I appreciate all the effort. ... I wish we could have had a good result, but we'll try again at Bristol."

In Victory Lane, the happy winner commented that the team " had a great long run car all day. It took us a little bit to get going. I was pretty free all day, so we made a really good change to tighten me up where I needed it and it looked like Kyle was getting loose and I'm happy it worked in our favor that there was a couple long runs at the end that kind of let us get there. That was awesome."

Larson explained the final laps: "I think he just got a lot better there that last stage and it kind of changed up my flow of the race a little bit. I could get out to such a big lead and then I could take care of my stuff; and run the bottom, where it was maybe slower, but 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 in the faster part of the racetrack and just use my stuff up. And then, he was just a lot better than me there late in the run.”

Tires were an important factor in that final long run to the checker. Earlier some drivers, including Larson, had had significant tire degradation on the old, abrasive Atlanta surface, This final run went longer that any other, forcing the cars to run on that final set of tires longer than ever before. It seems likely that Larson lost his competitive edge over Blaney when his tires started to give out sooner in that final, longer run.

"Hate to lead a lot of laps and lose, but we had a really good car that we brought to the track,’ said Larson. Our (self-sponsored) HendrickCars.com Chevy was fast there for a long time. I don't really know; I don't know if we got that much worse or he just got way better and, like I said, it just kind of changed up the flow of my race. ... But, yeah, I mean, it just was hard. My tires were pretty much gone at that point. I was sliding around. I just didn’t get through traffic good at the end.”

Blaney's win marked the sixth different winner in six races for the 2021 Cup season.

• Click HERE for the race results

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