Ryan Blaney surprises Kyle Larson at Atlanta Motor Speedway
By Bob Pockrass
FOX Sports NASCAR Writer
HAMPTON, Ga. – The way Kyle Larson dominated in leading 269 laps, the NASCAR Cup Series race Sunday was his to lose.
And he did.
Blaney’s victory marked the sixth driver to win in the first six Cup races – and the first time that has happened since 2014.
"I’m happy I’m one of them," Blaney said with a laugh as he became the first Team Penske driver to win this year.
Blaney proves to never give up
It was a surprise Blaney won only because Larson was so dominant. The turning point came when Larson didn’t put several seconds on the rest of the field during the final run following green-flag pit stops with 56 laps remaining.
"I wasn’t going to beat him in a 10-lap shootout. His car was so good," Blaney said.
Blaney gained ground on Larson by running the top – typically where Larson prefers to run.
"The start and haflway through the final stage, I had confidence that we made really good changes to our car," Blaney said. "I was just hoping that there would be a long run toward the end.
"That was our only shot I had to beat him."
Traffic costs Larson
Larson, who won earlier this year at Las Vegas, lost time to Blaney when trying to lap Joey Logano. Blaney was already catching Larson, but after Blaney passed him, Larson grumbled to his team: "I hate Joey Logano."
After the race, Larson said he wasn’t sure if not getting by Logano made a big difference.
"It’s hard to say – I definitely would have had a better shot had I gotten by Logano when I got to him," Larson said. "But it just was hard. My tires were pretty much gone by that point. I was sliding around.
"I just didn’t get through traffic good at the end."
Larson said while he didn’t break out to as big of a lead as he had earlier in the race, he wasn’t saving his tires for the final run, which was the longest of the day. The Hendrick Motorsports driver said he pushed so hard that he wore out his tires before the end of the race.
"I was pushing the whole time," Larson said. "I was trying to get it out to a big gap. I never really did. I extended it a little bit but not nearly enough.
"The other green-flag stops, I could exit pit road, and I feel like I would gain a few seconds over the course of 20 laps. I was hoping it would be like that. ... But after the [final] green-flag stop, he was just really good."
Alex Bowman’s third-place finish was his first top-5 finish of the season, Austin Dillon (sixth) had his first top-10 since Daytona, and Chris Buescher (seventh) earned his first top-10 of the season.
"Nothing went wrong for once," Bowman said. "It seems like every race all year, something goes wrong. I’m just glad we were able to put an entire day together."
Not only was it Buescher’s first top-10, but it was also just the second top-10 for Roush Fenway Racing.
"I’m pretty happy with that from start to finish," Buescher said. "We were able to fire off and make some progress and head forward and stay with it all day.
"We didn’t really have to work on much."
Bob Pockrass has spent decades covering motorsports, including the past 30 Daytona 500s. He joined FOX Sports in 2019 following stints at ESPN, Sporting News, NASCAR Scene magazine and The (Daytona Beach) News-Journal. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram @bobpockrass. Looking for more NASCAR content? Sign up for the FOX Sports NASCAR Newsletter with Bob Pockrass!