HAMPTON, Ga. – William Byron won the rain-shortened NASCAR race at Atlanta Motor Speedway on Sunday night for his second win in Atlanta in the last two years and his fourth victory of the season.
The threat of rain affected strategy as drivers fought to move toward the front of the field before weather delayed or ended the race.
On lap 185, with 75 laps to go, NASCAR ordered cars to pit road due to rain and the possibility of lightning. Cars were covered while officials waited to see if the rain ended. Only six minutes later, fans were warned of severe weather within eight miles of the track and were encouraged to leave the stadium immediately.
The race became official after 130 laps.
Daniel Suarez, looking for his first win of 2023, was second. Michael McDowell was third.
“We knew the rain was coming,” McDowell said. “We wanted to give ourselves the best chance to win the race.”
Kevin Harvick, a three-time Atlanta winner, had a spin with 89 laps remaining. Harvick was able to drive to pit road without a caution, but the spin all but ended his hopes of a win in his final Atlanta race.
The increased threat of rain placed an increased emphasis on drivers to compete for top spots in the second stage, perhaps contributing to two wrecks that knocked out Ross Chastain, Kyle Larson and Austin Hill.
Denny Hamlin and Alex Bowman were involved in another crash late in the second stage, leaving Brad Keselowski and Ryan Blaney at the front of the field. The stage ended under caution.
Despite the stage win, Keselowski was left with a big decision as he talked with his crew about the threat of rain and the possibility of staying on the track. He chose to pit for fuel.
A collision between Bubba Wallace and Ryan Preece caused another caution early in the final stage, leaving Byron in the lead, ahead of Suarez.
Aric Almirola, who won the pole, led the first 39 laps before being passed by Joey Logano for the first time. Blaney held off Larson to win the first stage.
Chase Elliott, still looking for his first win of the season, finished 13th. Elliott won his first race at his Atlanta home track in the 2022 summer race.
HARVICK'S 29 RETURNS TO AMS
Harvick's first NASCAR win came on March 12, 2001, at Atlanta Motor Speedway in a No. 29 Chevrolet originally built for Dale Earnhardt Sr. before Earnhardt died in a crash at the Daytona 500 weeks earlier.
The 29 returned to AMS, this time driven by grand marshal Richard Childress, 77, who was the team owner for Harvick in 2001. With Harvick's No. 4 Ford driving beside him, Childress led the field around the track to the green flag for Sunday night's race. Childress held up three fingers in a tribute to Earnhardt after entering pit road, just as Harvick did after winning in 2001. Some fans answered Childress with their own three-finger Earnhardt tribute.
“I couldn’t be more excited about seeing it lead the field to the green and I know how excited Richard is,” Harvick said Saturday. “I’m excited as well but Richard has been super excited to drive it and that makes me happy, too.”
BELL SENT TO BACK OF FIELD
Chris Sherwood, the car chief for Christopher Bell's No. 20 Toyota, was ejected before the race and Bell had to start at the back of the field at 36th due to unapproved adjustments to the car Sunday afternoon. It wasn't much of a blow to Bell's chances; he qualified 34th in the 37-car field.
Bell charged through the field to finish the first stage sixth, but finished 23rd.
The NASCAR Cup Series moves to New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon next Sunday.
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