Photo courtesy of Jonathan Bachman | Getty Images
2022 NASCAR Cup Series Champion Joey Logano found Victory Lane for the first time in 2023, winning his first career race at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
Returning East from a three-race West Coast stretch, Logano won the Ambetter Health 400 from pole after out-dueling RFK Racing driver Brad Keselowski to earn Team Penske its first win of the season.
Ford’s ran strong all day after qualifying in the top eight positions. Penske drivers qualified top three as Austin Cindric and Ryan Blaney started behind Logano.
Keselowski held a lead from the outside line down the later stretch of the race before he was passed by Logano on the final lap. The inside line struggled to build up speed consistently but it had its moments throughout the race. The three Penske cars of Logano, Cindric and Blaney manned the inside line during the later run.
Keselowski had the help of 23XI driver Tyler Reddick on the outside through his run. Anytime Keselowski began losing speed to the Penske pack, Reddick was there to offer a push to keep the outside line’s advantage.
Approaching the white flag entering Turn 3, Keselowski had the advantage but Joe Gibbs Racing driver Christopher Bell jumped from third on the outside to the front on the inside and Keselowski had to move down to make a block.
Bell moved up entering Turn 1 which gave Logano the space to make a run from inside with a push from Spire Motorsports driver Corey LaJoie. Keselowski had to move up to block Logano on the outside as he drifted up the track and to the outside through Turn 2 putting him side-by-side with Keselowski. Logano had the speed he needed to pass Keselowski in the back straight away and with a push from Bell got the distance he needed to secure the win.
Keselowski remains winless under the RFK banner and is still searching for his first win since the 2021 GEICO 500 at Talladega. Though, the speed that the No. 6 team has displayed early this season should be a positive indication for Keselowski.
LaJoie was looking for his first career win however, fourth place is not only the best of his Cup Series career but the best for him in any of the three National Series.
Bell finished third for his third top-five finish in five races this season.
Reddick finished fifth for his second-straight top-five finish. Blaney got moved back to seventh as the field shifted around on the final lap, but a top-10 finish is solid after a speeding penalty set him back earlier in the day.
Despite qualifying well with two cars in the top 10, Stewart-Haas Racing’s Ford’s struggled early in the race. Both Kevin Harvick and Aric Almirola fell out of the top 10 early. Both cars found their way to the front of the pack in Stage 2 but were the cause of some accidental cautions and did not finish the race.
Kevin Harvick was the first to go on Lap 190 after he got loose as Trackhouse Racing driver Ross Chastain neared his bumper and he spun out ending his day as well as Hendrick Motorsports driver William Byron who won the last two races. RFK’s Chris Buescher was also wrecked after leading laps earlier in the race. Two other cars’ days were ended and five more were also involved but able to continue racing.
Almirola took advantage on the restart but on Lap 210 he lost a tire and spun out while leading and Hendrick driver Kyle Larson made contact spinning out as well after Reddick bumped him from behind. Almirola and Larson both wrecked out after hitting the wall and Trackhouse driver Daniel Suárez was unable to continue after a bolt in his suspension broke following contact with Larson in the incident.
Next week the NASCAR Cup Series will take to its first road course of the season in Austin, Texas at the Circuit of the Americas for the EchoPark Automotive Grand Prix. The race is scheduled for Sunday, March 26 at 3:30 p.m. ET on FOX as cars will attempt to turn right.
NOTE: Post-race inspection is complete in the Cup Series garage. There were no issues, confirming Logano as the winner. The Nos. 2 and 7 will be taken to the R&D Center in Concord, North Carolina for further inspection.