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Atlanta Motor Speedway has a history of producing some of the sport's most phenomenal finishes. There was Kevin Harvick winning over Jeff Gordon in 2001, two races after Dale Earnhardt's death at Daytona. Carl Edwards did his famous backflip after edging out Jimmie Johnson by inches in 2005.

But three abreast? At a 1.5-mile racetrack? Could that even be done?

The answer Sunday was a resounding yes.

In a five-lap dash to end the race, Daniel Suarez edged out Ryan Blaney and Kyle Busch in an ending that may be impossible to top. Suarez's margin of victory was so close (three-thousandths of a second) it's less than half the time it would take to make your eye blink. Blaney's reaction to the ending said it all.

Busch, who finished third, wound up just seven-thousandths of a second behind.

"I was looking at the 12, and I swore I was ahead of the 12 at the line," Busch said. "Obviously, my eyes are bad. Need more powerful glasses, I guess."

Suarez made his winning pass by heading to the top, left alone when Busch made his dive to go for it himself.

"I felt like if Kyle wasn't going to go for the win, I wasn't going to win it," Suarez said. "That really helped me to go three-wide and to the top, so it was amazing.

"You have no idea how happy I am right now."

Just like that, Suarez brought his patented piñata celebration to the center of the tri-oval. One smash left candy strewn across the track, smashing to pieces an offseason narrative that Suarez started the year on the hot seat at Trackhouse Racing. The two-car team has plans to expand, but offseason signings of Cup rookie Zane Smith (lent to Spire Motorsports this year) and New Zealander Shane van Gisbergen to a development deal left Suarez vulnerable.

Not anymore.

"I love this pressure," Suarez explained, well aware of the naysayers after a disappointing drop to 19th in points last year. "I love going out there knowing that we have to perform. I use that as fuel."

The sport's lone Mexican driver now gets immediately catapulted into the championship conversation. No healthy full-time driver who's won in the regular season has been shut out of the playoffs since the sport retooled its postseason format in 2014.

Just don't expect Suarez to stop there.

"Some people actually told me earlier, hey, now you can relax, you're in the playoffs," Suarez explained. "Hell no. My goal is not to win one race. I want to head into the playoffs with at least a handful -- with a few wins to be able to contend for a championship … this is only the beginning. We have to continue to work, continue to build."  

Traffic Report

Green: Atlanta Motor Speedway. No one knew how this track would race after a 2021 repave turned this around into a de facto superspeedway. Sunday offered a resounding verdict, a track-record 48 lead changes, four-wide racing for the lead and runs so strong within the pack all drivers seemed hellbent on staying aggressive. 10 caution flags for 65 laps littered the afternoon and left almost every driver with damage like it was a Bristol Motor Speedway night race; even the winner Suarez had to recover from a 16-car wreck on just the second lap.

Todd Gilliland described it best. "It's like going to a haunted house, you know? It's fun, but I'm scared for my life at the same time."

Yellow: Front Row Motorsports. Michael McDowell's first ever Cup pole turned into an eighth-place finish. Todd Gilliland led 58 laps, over twice as much as he'd led his entire Cup career. But this race will be the one that got away from one of NASCAR's underdog teams who focuses its efforts on superspeedway tracks.

Gilliland broke a toe link late in the right rear, ruining his chances at an almost certain top-five finish. And midway through the race, McDowell made contact with William Byron heading to pit road, damaging what might otherwise have been the fastest car.

Red: Brad Keselowski. One of the sport's best superspeedway racers instead leaves the first two races in a serious hole: two wrecked racecars, two missed opportunities while going for the win and a total of just 16 points, worst among the 34 full-time drivers competing for this year's title.

Speeding Ticket: Everyone. The race was so exciting it left pit road a non-story, but there where a whopping 14 speeding penalties assessed during the race. Drivers struggling to navigate the entrance to the pits (see: McDowell incident above) and that could come back to bite someone when NASCAR returns here for the playoff opener in September.


The first incident of the day was also the most serious, with Todd Gilliland's check-up near the front starting a chain reaction in which Martin Truex Jr. bumped Austin Dillon and sent him spinning.

When all was said and done, 16 cars wound up involved although only one car (Josh Williams) was eliminated on the spot.

"This is supposed to be Cup racing," Williams said. "It's just insane. I had five guys pass me while we're still wrecking and it's Lap 1. Unfortunate … you just wait until somebody runs into you, I guess."

As a runner-up, not so much an oops but a wow: the ability to go four-wide into the corner fighting for the lead at Atlanta. And you wonder why people were so hyped about the racing?

"I'm sure it looked cool and made for good pictures," joked Austin Cindric, who eventually finished fourth. "Someone's gotta do it. I can promise you I'll be the guy. … It's not easy to do, but I guess that's why they call us the best in the world."