Suarez Steals Atlanta Win In Wild Three-Wide Finish


Daniel Suarez (99) edges Ryan Blaney (12) and Kyle Busch to win Sunday night at Atlanta Motor Speedway. (Alex Slitz/Getty Images for NASCAR photo)

HAMPTON, Ga. – After nearly two years of frustration, it took one all-time move and a matter of inches for Daniel Suarez to reach the top of the NASCAR Cup Series heap once again.

In the closest finish in Atlanta Motor Speedway history, Suarez used a perfectly-timed side draft on the top of a three-wide battle off turn four to nip Ryan Blaney and Kyle Busch for the victory in Sunday night’s Ambetter Health 400.

Though it was Busch who first slipped to the right flank of Blaney’s Ford heading toward turn three on the final lap, Suarez put his Chevrolet one lane higher and rim-rode around the final two corners of the 1.54-mile quad-oval.

With Blaney down low, Busch in the middle, and Suarez nearly against the outside SAFER Barrier, the trio raced side-by-side-by-side off the final turn toward the flagstand as the assembled crowd rose out of their seats in a screaming frenzy.

Though it appeared Blaney would be first to the finish line by taking the shortest way around, Suarez’s side draft was just enough to slow the momentum of the two cars inside of him, allowing him to eke out his second career Cup Series win by the slimmest of margins – three one-thousandths (.003) of a second.

It was the third-closest Cup Series finish ever since the advent of electronic scoring in 1993, and the .007-of-a-second margin between first and third was the tightest podium by time in Cup Series history.

It also snapped Suarez’s 57-race winless drought that dated back to June of 2022 at Sonoma (Calif.) Raceway.

The finish was so close that it even took Suarez a moment to fully grasp the gravity of his victory.

“It was so damn close, man. It was so damn close,” said a breathless Suarez after smashing a celebratory piñata on the frontstretch. “It was good racing. Ryan Blaney [was] there, Kyle Busch [was there], Austin Cindric was doing a great job giving pushes … he just didn’t push me on the back straightaway because he knew I was going to f--- his teammate.

“Man, what a job.”

It was the cap on a remarkable comeback effort by Suarez and his Trackhouse Racing crew, after the winning No. 99 caught some damage from a 16-car melee in turn one on the second lap of the race.


Daniel Suarez celebrates winning at Atlanta Motor Speedway Sunday night. (Alex Slitz/Getty Images for NASCAR photo)

“We wrecked on lap two! The guys did just an amazing job fixing this car, and it got us here [to victory lane],” Suarez noted. “I can’t thank everyone enough, from Trackhouse Racing and Freeway Insurance to Chevrolet and all the amazing fans here. Let's go!”

Suarez didn’t even take the lead until 13 laps to go, just after a lap-246 restart that pitted him against Blaney at the front of the field. However, moments later down the backstretch, a chain-reaction crash ended with Josh Berry’s Ford slamming down into Carson Hocevar’s Chevrolet, sending it airborne.

Chase Elliott also spun in the aftermath, leading to the last of 10 caution flags and setting up a five-lap sprint for glory at the high-banked quad-oval.

Though Suarez got a huge push from Busch that propelled him to the lead, the Monterrey, Mexico, native mistimed his block on the advancing high lane down the backstretch, allowing Blaney to surge back into control in the closing moments.

Blaney held the lead through the white flag, but lamented the fast-paced sequence of events in the final half-lap that ultimately denied him the trophy on Sunday night.

“I thought I laid back enough in [turns] one and two to not let both lanes get that big of a run,” Blaney explained.” I did that like the three laps before the end and I was able to manage it kind of fairly well, and they just got both lanes shoving super hard. I chose the bottom, and it was the safest place to be.

“What a cool finish. That was a lot of fun,” he added. “That's always a good time when we can do that; race clean and have a three-wide finish to the end. I’m happy for Daniel. That was cool to see. It was fun racing with Kyle, too.

“I can’t complain; I’ve won them by very, very little, too … so I can’t complain too much when I lose one by that much.”

Similar to Blaney, Busch struggled to isolate one moment that could have made a concrete difference in the battle for the win.

“Typically, whoever is behind getting into [turn] three prevails at the start-finish line with the side draft and everything, so I was … I think second to the 12 [Blaney] right there, and the 99 [Suarez] was the furthest back, and he made the [most] ground back up with the side draft and all that.

“I don’t think you could just stop,” he added. “That certainly wouldn’t have put us in the right spot, either.”

Cindric faded to fourth at the finish, followed by the Toyota of Bubba Wallace and the Chevrolet of Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

Ross Chastain, polesitter Michael McDowell, Chris Buescher, and Ty Gibbs closed the top 10.

McDowell and Cindric won stage one and stage two, respectively, while Todd Gilliland – who led six times for a race-high 58 laps – suffered a late tire issue that relegated him to 26th, four laps down at the finish.

Sunday’s race featured an Atlanta Motor Speedway-record 48 lead changes among 14 different drivers, and took three hours, 28 minutes, and eight seconds to complete – an average speed of 115.398 mph.

The NASCAR Cup Series season continues Sunday, March 3 at Las Vegas (Nev.) Motor Speedway with the running of the Pennzoil 400. Hendrick Motorsports’ William Byron is the defending event winner.

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About Jacob Seelman

Jacob Seelman is Motorsports Hotspot’s News Editor and Race Face Digital’s Director of Content, as well as a veteran of more than a decade in the racing industry as a professional, though he’s spent his entire life in the garage and pit area.