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As Byron took the white flag to signal the final of 325 laps, Ross Chastain attempted to make a move on Byron for the lead but was thwarted by Christopher Bell who passed him on the inside to take second on the back straightaway.
Bell, however, was penalized by NASCAR for passing below the red line and was sent to the end of the lead lap in the running order.
Byron held on to claim the victory – his first of the year and third of his career. Three different Hendrick Motorsports drivers have won three of the season’s first five races.
“It was so different. Honestly, the last few laps there and trying to manage the gap to Bubba and trying to not get too far out front,” Byron, 24, said. “You know, my spotter Brandon (Lines), his first win, so congrats to him.
“Thanks to this whole team. They’ve done a great job this year. Lots of changes with the Next Gen car. The Chevrolet was awesome there. Worked hard overnight. Had a pretty rough practice (Saturday) and worked hard on it and got it handling well.
“It was kind of an intermediate style with a little bit of speedway into it, so a lot of fun. Thanks to everyone at Hendrick Motorsports, and super-exciting.”
Sunday’s race was the first in the Cup series on the newly revamped Atlanta. The track was repaved and the banking was increased from 24 to 28 degrees. In addition, the track width deceased from 55 feet to 40 feet in the corners.
The race featured 46 lead changes among 20 different drivers – both track records – and was very similar to the pack racing seen typically on Daytona and Talladega.
Chastain was credited with second, Kurt Busch third, Daniel Suarez fourth and Corey LaJoie rebounded from a wreck to round out the top-five.
Completing the top-10 were Chase Elliott, Chris Buescher, Martin Truex Jr., Joey Logano and Alex Bowman.
Following the break between Stages 2 and 3, about half the field pit with Byron the first off pit road. Suarez was among those who stayed out and inherited the lead. He led the way on the restart on Lap 217.
On Lap 229, Elliott powered around into the lead as Truex moved into second and Suarez ran third.
With 80 laps remaining, Elliott maintained a small lead over Suarez while Bell ran third, Chase Briscoe fourth and Byron fifth.
On Lap 254, NASCAR was forced to throw a caution for debris in Turns 3 and 4 which appeared to come off Tyler Reddick’s damaged car.
All the lead-lap cars elected to pit with Aric Almirola the first off pit road thanks to a two-tire stop. On the restart on Lap 260, Almirola was followed by Byron, Bubba Wallace, Ryan Blaney and Erik Jones.
With 50 laps to go, Byron held a small advantage over Wallace with Blaney in third. Almirola ran fourth and Jones fifth.
With 30 laps remaining, Byron, Wallace and Blaney remained out front as many teams were being cautious and trying to save fuel.
However, several teams were being told they were good to go to the end of the race and could start to make their way to the front.
On Lap 301, Todd Gilliland hit the wall and spun and Cody Ware got hit from behind while trying to slow down and slammed hard into the infield retaining wall.
Several cars decided to pit but Byron was among those who stayed out and remained in the lead. The race returned to green on Lap 307 with Byron followed by Wallace, Blaney, Almirola and Jones.
Chastain spun out Almirola on Lap 308 to bring out a caution. On the restart with 13 laps remaining, Byron still led followed by Wallace, Blaney and Jones.
Wallace got a shove to propel him to the lead shortly after the restart.
On Lap 316, Byron got back around Wallace to reclaim the lead.
Blaney earned the Stage 2 win under caution when Denny Hamlin got into race leader Kyle Larson to trigger a wreck with one lap remaining in the stage.
Elliott was credited with second, Briscoe third, Almirola fourth and Brad Keselowski rounded out the top-five.
Following the break between Stages 1 and 2, those cars who did pit on the previous caution did pit with Elliott the first off pit road.
On the restart on Lap 111, Bell – who stayed out – led the way followed by Austin Cindric, Logano and Wallace.
Kevin Harvick powered around Bell on Lap 122 to take the lead for the first time in the race.
Working with Bell, Truex got a shove into the lead on Lap 125 and Logano powered around Truex to reclaim the lead on Lap 126.
Kurt Busch worked his way out front on Lap 128 for the first time in the race.
By Lap 144, Byron returned to the lead but while running in second on Lap 145, Reddick had a right-rear tire go down and he spun out, collecting 12 other cars in the incident.
Among the others involved were Kurt Busch, Logano, LaJoie, Hamlin, Blaney, Bowman and Michael McDowell.
The lead-lap cars all pit with Byron the first off pit road. Truex was penalized for speeding during his stop and had to restart from the rear of the field. Suarez was penalized for pitting outside of his pit box and also restarted from the rear. Reddick was held two laps for having too many crew members over the wall while on the damaged vehicle policy.
On the restart on Lap 154, Byron was followed by Harvick and Jones.
NASCAR was forced to display a caution on Lap 157 for debris on the frontstretch of the track that came off Reddick’s damaged car.
The majority of cars elected not to pit and Harvick remained in the lead when the race resumed on Lap 162.
Byron returned to the lead shortly after the restart.
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. returned to the lead on Lap 185 as Blaney ran second and Bell in third.
Stenhouse had a right-rear tire go down while leading the race in Turn 4 on Lap 201, spun and slammed into Cindric. Jones and Harvick were also involved in the incident.
Most of the lead-lap cars remained on the track and Blaney led the way when the race returned to green on Lap 208. He was followed by Larson, Hamlin, Almirola and Elliott.
Byron claimed the Stage 1 win under caution after a multi-car wreck on the frontstretch with four of 105 laps remaining required an extended cleanup.
Hamlin ended up second, Suarez third, Stenhouse fourth and Jones rounded out the top-five.
Briscoe started on the pole but Blaney beat him to the line to lead Lap 1. Briscoe returned to the lead on Lap 2.
Kyle Busch got around Briscoe to move into the lead on Lap 7.
Elliott went to the inside of Kyle Busch to grab the lead on Lap 13 as he and Busch continued to race side-by-side.
Kyle Busch cleared Elliott to return to the lead on Lap 16.
On Lap 24, Noah Gragson got loose in Turn 2, over-corrected his car and slammed into the wall to bring out a caution.
“It’s early in the race, I was by myself and got loose and went to correct it and it just snapped,” Gragson said.
About a dozen cars pit but none could take on fuel. Bowman was penalized for speeding on pit road and had to restart from the rear of the field.
Kyle Busch remained on the track and in the lead when the race returned to green on Lap 31.
Chastain got a shove to the front to grab the lead after the restart as Byron moved to second.
Byron got a shove into the lead on Lap 35. Chastain went to the inside of Byron to retake the lead on Lap 41.
Two laps later, Byron returned the favor and returned to the lead as Chastain ran second and Elliott third.
NASCAR displayed a competition caution on Lap 46 to allow teams to check for tire wear. All the lead-lap cars pit for fuel and tires with Blaney the first off pit road. His team did not get all the fuel in the car, so he was forced to make a second stop.
Kurt Busch was penalized for a safety violation and Bell for equipment interference and both had to restart from the rear of the field.
The race returned to green on Lap 52 with Logano out front, followed by Hamlin and Byron.
On Lap 55, Chastain got around Logano to retake the lead.
Logano powered around Chastain to reclaim the lead on Lap 65 but then lost the draft and the lead to Chastain on Lap 70.
With 25 laps remaining in the stage, Chastain maintained a small lead over Byron with Hamlin in third.
On Lap 95, while leading the race, Chastain had a right-rear tire go down which sent him skating up into the wall, which brought out a caution.
About half of the field elected to pit with Bell the first off pit road. Chastain was penalized two laps for taking fuel while on the damaged vehicle policy.
Byron, however, stayed out and remained in the lead when the race resumed on Lap 101. He was followed by Hamlin and Kyle Busch.
Exiting Turn 4 on Lap 101, Kyle Busch got into Austin Dillon to start a wreck in which Ty Dillon and Briscoe were also involved.
The cleanup of the incident lasted until the conclusion of the stage.
Both Keselowski and Harrison Burton both started the race from the rear of the field because of unapproved adjustments.