Editor’s Note: Full results, race notes, and updated driver standings are at the bottom of this file. And part two – don’t forget to check out the ugly part of Sunday’s race.
If Sunday’s NASCAR Cup race had been made into a movie, it would have been an updated version of a reel classic, a no-brainer titled “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.”
Starring Clint Eastwood, the 2022 version will star Chase Elliott (The Good), Corey Lajoie (The Bad) and The Ugly (Ross Chastain).
We’re going to give you two columns about Sunday’s race here AutoRacingDigest.com, The first will be about good and bad. The second column will be about the ugly — and it certainly was and will likely lead to even more ugliness as the season progresses.
First, it was good.
Sunday’s Quaker State 400 was a finish that was as good as it was, as Elliott emerged with the win, catching runner-up Chastain, who was denied a last-second bid when a last-lap caution stalled. Fields and Elliot got the win.
There’s even more good news for Chase: He’s joined his father, NASCAR Hall of Famer Bill Elliott, as the second father-son combo to win at Atlanta Motor Speedway, second to Dale Earnhardt and son Dale Jr.
And, Elliott became the first Cup driver to win a third this season, with four others taking two wins each and eight drivers who have won just once so far. Sunday’s race was 19th of the season, which means there are just seven races left to reach the end of the 26-race “regular season”—in other words, the run-up to the 10-race, 16-driver playoffs.
It wasn’t a perfect race for Elliot, but it was darn near there. Not only did he win the race, he captured each of the first two stages.
Asked by NBC/USA Network, Elliot replied, “It’s definitely there, man,” where his first Cup win took place at his home racetrack—he drove 90 miles north of Atlanta Motor Speedway in tiny Dawsonville, Georgia. Grown up at the distance – He ranks in the other 15 races won in his Cup career.
“Winning at your home track is really a big deal for any race car driver,” said the younger Elliot. “I’ve seen a lot of people do it (winning at their home track) over the years like Jimmy (Johnson) in California. We really haven’t done very well here, so I thought today was the day for us. Very good opportunity.
“It’s obviously home to me, home to a lot of great fans who made a lot of noise today, home to Napa, right down the street in Atlanta. I couldn’t be more proud of my team
“What a car. I’m not sure we’ve ever had such a good speedway car. If we had, I probably ruined it at Daytona. Man, how many weeks has it been. I feel like I did last week Gave one and to come back and perform like this, I am really proud of him.”
And little Dawsonville was in turn proud of Elliot, as its infamous pool hall sounded its famous emergency warning siren after Elliot’s victory, a tradition that went on to bill and with each cup win the siren would go off in his honor. Will go , It is a tradition that has continued since Chase reached Cup level full-time in 2016.
Atlanta Motor Speedway, which was reconfigured and renovated after last season, excelled from a racing standpoint. In fact, several people I talked to during and after the race all said the same thing or a derivative thereof: If you didn’t know it, you’d think the race was run on a smaller version of Talladega Superspeedway, The racing was that close and competitive.
And yes, we had a big one too – but we’ll cover that in Column Part 2.
It was bad then.
Corey Lajoie raced his Cup career ahead, leading 19 laps and appearing as if he was the only driver with much of a chance to overtake Elliot on the final lap.
But that’s when bad things happened – unlucky, that is.
Unfortunately, after being blocked by Elliot, Lajoie washed away the track, lost control of his Chevrolet Camaro, swerved to the side of the outer wall and then back into traffic, gathering several other drivers. NASCAR immediately took precautions and Elliot was anointed the winner.
“Definitely the closest I’ve ever been (to winning),” Lajoie said after the race. “It’s fun. Nice to get that thing out in the air once.
Lajoie went from what appeared to be an almost guaranteed runner-up or third-place finish – if not a win – and ended up with a very disappointing 21 finish.scheduled tribe because of debris.
“I made my move and it didn’t work out,” he lamented. “(Chase) made a good block and unfortunately there are sirens (stopping) in Dawsonville. … I wish the 7 car was in the winning lane. But if we keep going like this and keep going, our time will come.”
In a sense, Corey — the son of former Bush Series champion Randy Lajoie — was in completely unknown territory. Till this season, he had led a total of 27 laps in the last two and a half seasons.
But he learned some valuable lessons on Sunday that will help him hit the road.
“I was going to school,” he said. “It was the first I was restarting at one of these superspeedway style racetracks, and how much you have to pull back, time your run, lanes covered, is all new to me.
“When it’s in that position again next time, I’ll be a little more prepared and hopefully we can do a little better and throw the block, which is to push the race late because The man is usually in that position in the catbird seat. I was having fun, I know that, and hope we can push that 7 car more often.”
Lajoie admits his bid to overtake Elliot – if not the race-deciding crash – was a long shot at best.
“Obviously, I knew he was going to score a big run,” Lajoie said. “I really didn’t want to let him down. I tried to give it a nice real offensive block. I felt like I had enough room to second it.
“And that was on the right side of my rear bumper, far enough behind the bumper to launch me forward. I hate that we tore up some cars, but I don’t know what you do. You either Win or not. I’m going for option A every day of the week.
“We almost caught the Hail Mary we tried to throw today, but unfortunately we came up short. However, I am proud of my people here at Spire (motorsports) and we will keep running.
Next, read part two, all about the ugly part of Sunday’s race