March 21, 2021:  at Atlanta Motor Speedway in Hampton, Georgia. (HHP/Chris Owens)
Ryan Blaney (12) races under Kyle Larson late in Sunday's Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway. (HHP/Chris Owens Photo)

Blaney Runs Down Larson Late In Atlanta

HAMPTON, Ga. – Just when it looked like Kyle Larson would cruise to victory in Sunday’s  Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway, Ryan Blaney arrived on the scene to crush his hopes.

Blaney was able run down Larson in the final 25 laps and wrestle the lead away with less than 10 laps left to become the sixth different race winner in as many NASCAR Cup Series races this season.

“We had a great long run car all day. It took us a little bit to get going,” Blaney explained. “I was pretty free all day, so we made a really good change to tighten me up where I needed it and it looked like Kyle was getting loose. I’m happy it worked in our favor that there were a couple long runs at the end that kind of let us get there.”

Larson appeared untouchable throughout Sunday’s race as he swept the first two stages of the race by a considerable margin. Blaney, however, was the only driver who seemed to be in the same zip code as Larson all day.

The lead duo made their final pit stops with 56 laps to go, with Larson emerging with a two second advantage over Blaney. However, unlike previous long green flag runs, Larson was unable to stretch out his lead as Blaney was able to keep Larson within reach.

“He got a little bit of a ways away from me on pit road after we came out and he stretched his lead out a tiny bit, but I was just like, ‘Alright, it’s going to be a 50 plus lap run. I’m going to try to save my stuff a little bit and hopefully it will even out and he’ll start coming back to me,'” Blaney said.

Kyle Larson (5) leads Ryan Blaney Sunday at Atlanta Motor Speedway. (Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images Photo)
Kyle Larson (5) leads Ryan Blaney Sunday at Atlanta Motor Speedway. (Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images Photo)

With less than 20 laps left Blaney began to visibly close on Larson, who found himself hung up behind the slower car of Blaney’s Team Penske teammate Joey Logano. With 15 laps left Blaney had cut Larson’s lead down to one second and five laps later he was within half a second of Larson’s bumper.

With nine laps left Blaney made his first run at Larson, getting alongside him briefly in turns one and two, but Larson was able to hold serve. As they raced around to turns three and four Blaney ran the top lane while Larson stuck to the bottom, allowing Blaney to get a huge run coming out of turn four.

Blaney used that run to dive under Larson as they raced to the start/finish line, with Blaney leading the race at the line. Larson was unable to hold off Blaney, who pulled clear on the next lap and quickly pulled away from Larson.

With no caution flags to slow the pace and give Larson a chance to close the gap, Blaney was able to roar to a 2.083-second victory. It was the fifth victory of Blaney’s NASCAR Cup Series career.

“I wasn’t going to beat him in a 10 lap shootout,” Blaney lamented. “His car was so good. Luckily we were more fortunate that it played out for a long run. Such a great long run car.”

Larson explained that after the final pit stop with 56 laps left he tried to build a big gap on Blaney like he had in previous runs, but his car simply wasn’t good enough to do that and he used up his tires.

In turn, that opened the door for Blaney to run him down late in the race.

“I was trying to get out to a big gap, but I never really did,” Larson explained. “I think I extended it a little, but not nearly enough. Before the other green flag stops I could exit pit road and I’d feel like I gained a few seconds over the course of like 20 laps. I was hoping it was going to be like that.

“After the green flag stop he was just really good. I couldn’t get out to that gap that I could earlier in the race. Ultimately just had to run my tires too hard to try and get that gap and I didn’t have anything there at the end.”

Alex Bowman finished a distant third, more than 10 seconds behind Blaney at the checkered flag. Joe Gibbs Racing teammates Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch completed the top-five.

Reigning NASCAR Cup Series champion and local favorite Chase Elliott was never a contender Sunday and retired from the race due to engine failure after completing 219 laps.