AUTO: MAR 19 NASCAR Cup Series Ambetter Health 400
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Fords started 2023 leading a manufacturer-best 122 laps of the Daytona 500, a NASCAR Cup Series crown jewel they were the trendy favorite to win. Only late wrecks some luck handed the victory to Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Chevrolet.

The Blue Ovals never would have guessed it would take another month to finally break through.

Reigning NASCAR Cup Series champion Joey Logano found victory lane Sunday at Atlanta Motor Speedway, breaking a 0-for-4 streak by Chevy's Bowtie Brigade to start the season. Team Penske flat out dominated in a way people expected at Daytona, winning both stages and leading 150 of 260 laps. Logano triumphed by passing fellow Ford driver Brad Keselowski with a power move on the final lap, leaving arguably the sport's best pack racer powerless to respond.

"When [Keselowski] came off the corner, he had me pinned up against the wall," Logano explained. "That really was what pinned the No. 20 [Christopher Bell] behind me to where he had to push me down the backstretch. When I backed up to him, got the push, that was enough to clear me plenty into the final corner, be able to race them side by side and kind of get to Victory Lane there."

It left the reigning Cup champion punching a playoff ticket five races into the year. More important for Logano, it was a punch back after never seriously contending during a three-race west coast swing in which he posted a position differential of -37.

Of course, doesn't salvage a season's worth of disappointment for Ford. Logano and his team were open after the race about how Chevy's established an early edge, Hendrick Motorsports emerging as an early threat to prevent Logano becoming the first back-to-back title winner of NASCAR's elimination-style playoff era (their recent 100-point penalties notwithstanding).

But an A+ performance at AMS, combined with Penske's cohesion at the front, proved their three-car effort still has what it takes to lead the charge.

"We know the situation we're in this year," Logano explained. "We know we have to be perfect all the time. If there's a team that can do it, it's this team."

Traffic Report

Green: Corey LaJoie --There's just something about this Atlanta track that suits LaJoie, who almost won here last summer before posting his best career Cup finish (fourth) on Sunday afternoon.

"You don't need to have the most downforce," the underdog said of this 1.5-mile oval. "You don't need to push the gray areas... it's kind of like an old, worn-out Daytona before they repaved it. It's slick and bumpy... a little bit more in the driver's hands in how you can position yourself [for success]."

Yellow: Brad Keselowski -- The last-lap pass was a tough pill for Keselowski to swallow, his winless streak ticking up to a career-worst 67 races. But the runner-up finish was his best as a driver/owner in the sport, collecting as many top-5 results through five races (one) as he did during his first full season with RFK Racing.

Red: Bubba Wallace -- This wreck caused the first caution of the day, leaving Wallace's car a shell of its former self the rest of the race.

It's the third issue in five races for Wallace, sitting 19th in the standings without a single lap led since the Daytona 500. 23XI Racing currently has both its drivers outside playoff position although Tyler Reddick (fifth) now has back-to-back top-5 results after an awkward start with the team.

Speeding Ticket: A sleepy first two stages -- Sometimes, the unpredictability of pack races causes drivers to put on the brakes. Just nine lead changes through the first 160 laps, most during green-flag stops, paled in comparison to 45 during the same distance in the Daytona 500.

Drivers have learned the goal is to simply stay on the lead lap, pack racing supergluing you together in a way you can wait to make a move. Case in point: Keselowski was ninth after stage two while Bell (third at the finish) was nowhere to be found inside the top 10. Tyler Reddick (fifth) rode around at the back for the vast majority of stage one.

Pacing themselves paid off in the end for those drivers. It just led to some yawn-inducing racing for fans whose expectations get ratcheted up at this track type.


A week filled with Ross Chastain in the headlines, the target of Denny Hamlin's last-lap contact at Phoenix that cost the Joe Gibbs Racing driver 25 points, ended with NASCAR's most aggressive driver involved in yet another high-profile incident.

This time, it came while battling Kevin Harvick for the lead. Whether Chastain touched Harvick is debatable, but the end result had the No. 4 car squirrelly and then turning sideways in front of the field, collecting a dozen cars in the melee.

Harvick was gracious in defeat despite getting TKO'd from the event.

"I think [Chastain] just caught me so quick, right there in the middle of the corner," Harvick said. "And then, he was kind of up on the right rear part of the corner and he came back down, and when he came back down it just spun the thing out. I don't think he actually even hit me, but it started chattering the rear tires and then I was just along for the ride."

Chastain's side of the story after surviving to finish 13th?

"Just trying to help push him," he explained. "We had made a lot of ground up. I don't think I hit him."