It had been almost a full 30 years since the last time race fans at Atlanta Motor Speedway got to a see Georgia-born driver -- especially one from out of a certain racing family in Dawsonville -- take the checkered flag. In another dramatic Atlanta race that left everyone guessing until the very end, the checkered flag finally flew for another Georgia favorite.
After taking the lead with two laps to go in a frantic finish, Chase Elliott won the Quaker State 400 by throwing a block on Corey LaJoie to earn his third win of the 2022 season and his very first at Atlanta Motor Speedway. Elliott's win is the first for a Georgia-born driver at Atlanta Motor Speedway since Chase's father, Bill Elliott, won in the final race of the 1992 season.
After five different drivers had won two races apiece this season, Elliott's three wins are now the most of any driver this year, bringing him another step closer to the regular-season championship and to the top of the playoff leaderboard.
Quaker State 400 unofficial results
- #9 - Chase Elliott
- #1 - Ross Chastain
- #2 - Austin Cindric (R)
- #43 - Erik Jones
- #12 - Ryan Blaney
- #99 - Daniel Suarez
- #31 - Justin Haley
- #10 - Aric Almirola
- #19 - Martin Truex Jr.
- #4 - Kevin Harvick
As one might have expected, Chase Elliott's win was an enormously popular one with the Atlanta crowd, who made their approval clear as Elliott celebrated on the front stretch after making an aggressive move to protect his lead in Turn 1 on the last lap.
"Obviously I knew he was gonna have a big run," Elliott told NBC Sports. "I didn't want to really give him the bottom, and I tried to give it one real, good, aggressive block. I felt like I had enough room to kind of give it a second one, and he was just right there on the right side of my back bumper. So it was far enough to the backside of the bumper to launch me forward.
"I hate it tore up some cars, but I don't know what you do. You either go for the win or don't. I'm gonna choose Option A every day of the week."
Here's more from the results of an eventful 400 miles:
Corey Calls His Shot
To date, Corey LaJoie has built credibility as a Cup Series driver largely through his work as a podcaster, as his Spire Motorsports team doesn't have the funding or resources to compete week-in and week-out. Drafting tracks are LaJoie's opportunity to contend, and after finishing a career-best fifth in the spring, he made it very clear what approach he was taking to Atlanta.
"If it's a superspeedway, we have to go attack and be in position to throw a Hail Mary and steal one," LaJoie said during a media teleconference on Tuesday.
What transpired Sunday was a fever dream of a final 50 laps for LaJoie: He ran in the top five throughout the closing laps of the race, leading multiple times for 19 laps in total and put himself in a position to win with an excellent launch on a restart with eight laps to go. LaJoie was the leader for the final restart with three laps to go, lost the lead to Elliott with two to go, but went to work in setting up the winning move entering Turn 1 on the final lap.
Backing up to get a run on Elliott, LaJoie took his shot by looking to the outside of Elliott. But Elliott was able to throw the block on LaJoie, and LaJoie ended up in the outside wall before spinning down to the inside and taking Kurt Busch with him, finishing 21st and turning what might have been one of the more shocking upsets in recent NASCAR history into one of the biggest heartbreakers instead.
"It was nice to have that thing out in the wind for once," LaJoie told NBC Sports. "I made my move and it didn't work out. He made a good block, and the siren was ringing in Dawsonville unfortunately ... I wish that No. 7 car was in Victory Lane. But if we keep running like this more consistently, that time will come."
Ross Chastain vs. The World
After a second-place finish, the BearBond all over the front of Ross Chastain's car told the story of his day pretty well: Chastain's bumper was used, accidents followed, and so did a lot of drivers being mad at Ross Chastain.
First, Chastain got into the back of Martin Truex Jr. and spun him around in mid-pack, triggering a nine-car pileup that sent Austin Dillon hard into the wall and left him fuming about Chastain's driving. Later, Aric Almirola was so irritated with Chastain's driving that he angrily remarked "he better hope I don't see him at Food Lion" during the week.
Then, late in the race, Chastain lost his nose in Turns 3 and 4 but stayed in the throttle, getting into the left rear quarter panel of Denny Hamlin, spinning Hamlin and renewing the wrath that Chastain had incurred at Gateway last month.
Though Hamlin did not exact any vengeance on Chastain -- he got collected in another crash shortly afterward and didn't get a chance -- he delivered more words of warning after the race.
"Everyone has their different tolerance levels, certainly ... I've reached my peak," Hamlin told reporters post-race. "It all works itself out in the end."
Explaining his end of the accident with Hamlin, Chastain stated that he overestimated how fast he could go in mid-corner with the damage to his car before losing the nose, and that he would try to explain that to Hamlin.
"Y'all know that I would take full responsibility if I just ran into him. But I had so much damage, I was so much tighter," Chastain told reporters. "We had done a lot to free the car up, but it was just way too tight and I just couldn't carry the throttle like I could earlier.
"I still lifted some, but it wasn't enough. I don't put this one anywhere near the other incidents."
Race Results Rundown
- Austin Cindric's top-10 streak continues, as he finished third to score his best result since winning the Daytona 500 in February. Cindric now has four top-10 finishes in a row, two of which are top fives.
- With a fourth-place finish, Erik Jones scored his second top five of the season and his sixth top 10. That's as many top fives as the driver of the Petty No. 43 since Aric Almirola had three in 2017, and it also matches Jones' top 10 output from all of 2021.
- When Cole Custer drove into and got a piece of the crash on the final lap, it looked as though the racing gods had once again turned their back on him. Then, finally, some good luck: Custer was able to keep rolling and keep his pace, allowing him to finish ninth and finally score his first top 10 of the season.
- Best day yet for Harrison Burton. Burton led twice for a career-high nine laps, and he came home 10th to score the very first top-10 finish of his Cup career.
- With a car not performing to his liking and some damage after getting collected in a crash mid-race, Bubba Wallace was a non-factor in a speedway race for the first time in quite awhile. But that wasn't all bad, as Wallace was able to keep his nose clean throughout the closing laps and score a 14th-place finish -- just his fifth top 15 of the year.
- Michael McDowell ran in the top 10 early, but damage from the nine-car wreck in Turn 2 led to him cutting a tire down and going a full three laps down. But McDowell stayed in the race, got back on the lead lap, and came home with a 15th-place finish.
- Christopher Bell was a factor all day until a self-spin at the very end. Although Bell's incident was only a harmless slide through the infield grass, the ensuing pit stop under caution would see the right rear wheel immediately fall off Bell's car after not being tightened enough. Bell went on to finish 19th.
The NASCAR Cup Series scales down a bit next week, as they head up to the Northeast and The Magic Mile of the New Hampshire Motor Speedway for the Ambetter 301 next Sunday at 3 p.m. ET.