Larson took both stage victories and led a race-high 269 of 325 laps but a 56-lap run on tires at Atlanta Motor Speedway is pushing their limits and as the laps wound down, Blaney’s No. 12 Ford appeared to gain ground quickly.
With eight laps remaining and as Larson and Blaney both approached the lapped car of Joey Logano, Blaney dove to the inside in Turns 3 and 4 and then pulled up and in front of Larson for the lead.
Blaney’s advantage only grew after that and he eventually held off Larson by just over 2 seconds for his first NASCAR Cup Series victory of the 2021 season.
Blaney led 25 laps in the race, including the last nine. The only other driver with double-digit laps led in the race was Denny Hamlin (27).
The win is the eighth of Blaney’s career and first at Atlanta.
“Gosh, we had a great long run car all day. It took us a little bit to get going. 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,” Blaney said.
“I’m happy it worked in our favor that there was a couple long runs at the end that kind of let us get there. He got slowed up behind some lap traffic, but I’m really proud of this whole (team). We’ve been good this year and had some bad breaks and it’s nice to close out a race like that.
“That was awesome.”
Blaney said thought Larson had the race in hand until the final green-pit stops.
Larson “was crazy fast there the whole race and then we started closing in. Our car got a lot better there. I think towards the end of stage two it was starting to get there and then before that
last green flag stop it really came to life and he was starting to struggle getting really free,” he said.
“I don’t know if the track changed or what, but we were just tightening it up all day. I’m happy there were a couple long runs at the end. That’s where our strong suit was and we capitalized on it.”
Alex Bowman finished third, Hamlin was fourth and Kyle Busch rounded out the top-five.
Completing the top-10 were Austin Dillon, Chris Buescher, William Byron, Martin Truex Jr. and Kevin Harvick, who rallied from a flat-tire early in the race, which put him a lap down, to finish in the top-10.
Said Larson: “I think he just a lot better there that last stage and it changed up my flow of the race a little bit. I could get out to such a good lead and I could take care of my stuff, run the bottom, where it may be slower, but I could take care of my tires.
“I hate to lead a lot of laps and lose but we had a really good car that we brought to the track. It was stupid fast.”
Following the break between Stages 2 and 3, all the lead-lap cars pit with Larson holding off Blaney in a photo finish off pit road.
The race resumed on Lap 218 with Larson out front followed by Blaney, Bowman, Byron and Kyle Busch.
On Lap 220, the engine let go on Chase Elliott’s No. 9 Chevrolet in Turn 4, bringing out a caution and sending his car to the garage.
“We got some damage there on that restart. Kyle (Busch) kind of spun his tires and then I was pushing him and Kurt (Busch) was pushing me,” Elliott said after his race was over.
“We all just really jammed together hard and ended up hurting the nose some. So, I don’t know if that had something to do with breaking the engine or not.”
All the lead-lap cars pit with Blaney the first off pit road. Kyle Busch was penalized for speeding on pit road and had to restart from the rear of the field.
On the restart on Lap 224, Blaney was followed by Larson, Bowman, Byron and Hamlin.
Larson got back around Blaney on Lap 237 to retake the lead as Blaney picked up a piece of trash on his front grille.
Truex and Byron were the first two drivers to kick off a final round of green-flag pit stops on Lap 267 to take on new tires and fuel to make it to the finish.
Daniel Suarez, who was running in the top-10, was penalized for speeding on pit road and had to make a pass-through penalty under green.
Once the cycle of stops was completed on Lap 270, Larson remained the leader with a 2.2-second lead over Blaney. Bowman was third, Hamlin fourth and Dillon fifth.
With 25 laps to go, Larson’s lead over Blaney remained stable at about 2.3 seconds. Bowman was third, Hamlin fourth and Kyle Busch ran fifth.
On Lap 317, Blaney finally worked his way around Elliott to reclaim the lead trying to deny Larson what had appeared to be an apparent victory.
Once again, Larson had little trouble running to a big lead and dominating on his way to the Stage 2 win. He led 178 of the first 210 laps of the race.
Blaney was second, almost 9 second behind Larson. Bowman was third, Kyle Busch fourth and Byron rounded out the top-five.
Following the break between Stages 1 and 2, the lead-lap cars all pit with Larson once again the first off pit road.
Ross Chastain was penalized for an uncontrolled tire during his pit stop and had to restart the race from the rear of the field.
The race returned to green on Lap 113 with Larson out front followed by Kyle Busch and Blaney.
Just after the restart, the outside lane got stacked up and Hamlin got into the back of Kurt Busch entering Turn 1 and set his No. 1 Chevrolet straight up into the wall to bring out a caution.
During the caution, several drivers took the opportunity to pit, including Hamlin, Suarez and Joey Logano. The race returned to green on Lap 119 with Larson still leading the way. He was followed by Blaney and Bowman.
Blaney and Larson swapped the lead on the restart but Larson quickly re-established himself in the top spot.
With 75 laps remaining in the second stage, Larson had built up a 4-second lead over Blaney as Bowman ran third.
A handful of cars headed down pit road on Lap 158 to begin a round of green-flag pit stops to allow teams to take on new tires and fuel to make it to the end of the stage.
Larson cycled back around to the lead on Lap 162 and Bowman had moved into the second spot, more than 5 seconds behind.
With 25 laps to go in the stage, Larson’s lead over Bowman had ballooned to over 8 seconds while Blaney remained in third.
Larson cruised to a dominating Stage 1 victory over Kyle Busch for his second stage win of the 2021 season.
Blaney was third, Kurt Busch fourth and Hamlin rounded out the top-five.
Hamlin, who started on the pole, took command early, easily leading the first 10 laps.
On Lap 11, Tyler Reddick hit the outside wall and did damage to the right-side of his No. 8 Chevrolet, but the race remained green. He was forced to pit for repairs.
On Lap 26, NASCAR displayed a competition caution to allow teams to check tire wear. All lead-lap cars pit with Larson the first off pit road.
Both Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Corey LaJoie were penalized for speeding on pit road and had to restart from the rear of the field.
When the race returned to green on Lap 31, Larson was followed by Hamlin, Harvick and Blaney. Harvick hit pit road before the race returned to green for a flat left-rear tire, which turned out to be caused by a broken valve stem.
With 50 laps remaining in the first stage, Larson built a 3-second lead over Hamlin with Kyle Busch in the third position.
Hamlin kicked off a round of green-flag pit stops on Lap 62 to take on new tires and fuel to make it to the finish of the stage.
Once the round of stops was completed, Larson cycled back to the lead on Lap 67. Hamlin was second, Kyle Busch third, Blaney fourth and Bowman fifth.
With 20 laps to go in the stage, Larson had built up a more than 6-second lead over Kyle Busch. Hamlin was third, Blaney fourth and Kurt Busch had moved into the top-five.
With five laps remaining, Larson had pushed his lead to more than 7.7 seconds over Kyle Busch.
Elliott had to start the race from the rear of the field due to his No. 9 Chevrolet twice failing pre-race inspection.
Timmy Hill had to start from the rear and serve a pass-through penalty once he took the green flag for failing three times. He also lost his car chief for the race.