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Friday, March 31, 2023

Elliott stops LaJoie and gives Georgian the first victory in Atlanta

HAMPTON, Ga. ( Associated Press) — With the home crowd cheering his every move, Chase Elliott wanted this win so bad.

He saw Corey LaJoie coming up fast in the rearview mirror.

There was no way Elliott was going to let it go.

The Georgia-born driver passed a mind-numbing LaJoie with just under two laps to go and crossed the finish line under caution after a huge block sent LaJoie crashing into the wall Sunday at Atlanta Motor Speedway. .

It was Elliott’s first NASCAR Cup win at what he considers his home track after coming up short in his first eight attempts.

“I’ve seen guys win at their home track, and you can tell it meant a lot to them,” Elliott said. your. Having this moment is so special and one I’m grateful for.”

Elliott paused in front of the main grandstand, greeted by a raucous applause from fans who cheered loudly every time he came forward and apparently stretched all the way to Dawsonville, the north Georgia city that produced the winner and his father, who long-time NASCAR Cup Series star Bill Elliott.

“Awesome Bill From Dawsonville” won five times at the historic Atlanta track.

Now his son has one too.

The Elliotts are the only Georgia-born drivers to win a Cup race at Atlanta. They are the third father-son duo to take the checkered flag at the 1.54-mile trioval, joining the Jarretts (Ned and Dale) and the Earnhardts (Dale and Dale Jr).

The wild end to another eventful race in Atlanta denied LaJoie the first win of his career, which would have been a huge upset for the low-budget Spire Motorsports team.

On a restart with three laps to go. LaJoie led the field from the inside lane and did everything he could to keep Elliott at bay. But, after they crossed the start-finish line for the penultimate time, Elliott took the lead on the outside with a helpful push from Erik Jones.

LaJoie was setting up a good run on the lead when they took the white flag, looking to pass Elliott in the same spot where he gave up the lead.

Elliott slid up to cut off his challenger. LaJoie, who has only one top-five finish in his career, ran out of room and smashed the outside wall.

Ross Chastain looked to make a move on Elliott, but the yellow lights flashed with the No. 9 still almost a car ahead.

That was it. Elliott was finally able to relax, becoming the first three-time winner in a season that has produced 13 different winners.

Chastain was the runner-up, followed by Austin Cindric, Jones and Ryan Blaney.

LaJoie settled for 21st place.

“Obviously, I knew I was going to have a great career. I tried to give him a good, aggressive block,” Elliott said. “I don’t know what else to do. You’re going for the win or you’re not. I’m going to choose option A every time.”

LaJoie, whose best career finish was a fifth-place finish in this year’s Atlanta spring race, nearly pulled off the most unlikely win of a wild season. He had no complaints about Elliott’s aggressive move.

“That was fun,” LaJoie said. “It’s nice to have that thing up front for once. I made my move. It didn’t work.

Even Rick Hendrick, owner of Elliott’s car, sympathized with LaJoie’s unfortunate end.

“If we couldn’t win, I wanted them to win,” Hendrick said. “He had a great race. He looked as good as anyone in this field.”

Martin Truex Jr. was leading a tight field out front when Chastain caused his second crash of the day with 14 laps to go.

Chastain, a two-time winner this season, has also made plenty of enemies with his overly aggressive driving. He hit the rear left panel of Denny Hamlin’s car, sending the No. 11 into a spin that dashed his hopes of winning.

Truex led on the restart with eight laps to go, LaJoie pulled ahead down the stretch, but the caution came again when Hamlin was hit a second time. This time, it was Christopher Bell trying to get between Hamlin and Joey Logano, causing a spin that took out all three cars.

Hamlin finished in 25th place.


Chastain caused a big crash on lap 91 when he hit Truex from behind going through turn one.

Truex’s car began to spin and seven other drivers joined the melee, with Austin Dillon taking the biggest hit when he crashed almost head-on into the outside wall.

Dillon was fine, but his No. 3 Chevrolet was ready for the day, another blow for a driver increasingly desperate for his first win of the season to claim a playoff spot.

Dillon blamed Chastain for being too aggressive, a familiar complaint against the driver of the No. 1 machine.

“We’re just a victim of Ross Chastain all over again,” Dillon said after walking out of the frame’s spotlight. “You want to run hard all day, but you have guys like him tearing up half the field.”

Chastain stayed in the race and was right there at the end, even with the front of his car covered in duct tape.


There were 26 lead changes among 12 drivers. … Elliott led a race-high 96 laps. … Justin Haley posted his second best finish of the season in seventh place. His only other top 10 finish was a third-place finish at Darlington.


The Cup drivers will head to New Hampshire Motor Speedway next Sunday. Aric Almirola, who is retiring from racing full-time at the end of this season, is the defending champion at the 1,058-mile Loudon Oval.


Follow Paul Newberry on Twitter at https://twitter.com/pnewberry1963


More Associated Press auto racing: https://apnews.com/hub/auto-racing and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

Copyright 2022 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without permission.

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