Thrilling NASCAR finish: Daniel Suárez edges Kyle Busch, Ryan Blaney in instant classic in Atlanta

In an ending previously only seen in movies like “Cars,” NASCAR saw a three-wide finish Sunday at Atlanta Motor Speedway — a virtual tie that was decided by less than one hundredth of a second.

Trackhouse Racing’s Daniel Suárez barely beat Ryan Blaney and Kyle Busch in the Ambetter Health 400, giving the Mexican driver his second career victory in the Cup Series as the three cars fanned out across the finish line.

The result was an immediate instant classic for NASCAR, a finish which will undoubtedly find its way into the perennial highlight reels. And it may have saved Suárez’s job in the process after the driver was often mentioned as a hot-seat candidate heading into the season following a 2023 playoffs miss.

But now Suárez is back in the playoffs this fall, which will open at Atlanta. Despite many skeptical fans and drivers, Atlanta’s 2022 reconfiguration has proven to be compelling and entertaining.

The track was a traditional 1.5-miler for most of its existence, but track owner Marcus Smith opted to turn it into a Daytona-style superspeedway — albeit retaining the distance — in the face of much outcry. Many felt the concept would be a failure, and drivers blanched at the idea of having to draft on an intermediate track.

But no one can argue with Sunday’s show, which saw an astounding 48 lead changes (a track record for Atlanta, which has hosted 120 NASCAR Cup Series races since 1960). There were also nine crashes, many of which involved multiple cars, and Fox Sports said only three drivers were not involved in a wreck at some point during the race.

Recency bias aside, there’s an argument to be made this finish is certainly among the top five in NASCAR history.

It would be hard to fault someone who claimed it was the best. Sure, there have been some very close finishes at the larger superspeedways like Daytona and Talladega, but a virtual three-way tie at a 1.5-mile track? If memory serves, that may very well be a first.

There wasn’t a duel that built to the finish like the 2003 Darlington battle between Ricky Craven and Kurt Busch, but both TV and radio calls Sunday originally thought Blaney was the winner – which goes to show just how close of a call this one was. Without the benefit of electronic timing and scoring, this was a true photo finish.

Drivers have remained largely skeptical of the Atlanta reconfiguration, pining for the days when they had more control around the track. In a recent anonymous poll conducted by The Athletic, Atlanta was named as the track drivers least looked forward to.

One driver was quoted as saying, “I wish a tornado would hit that f—ing place.” Their tune may have changed after Sunday, though, with multiple drivers declaring how much fun they had with the style of racing that allowed them to both draft and dice.

Now, with Atlanta opening the NASCAR Playoffs this fall for the first time, the track’s stock is suddenly on the rise.

Required reading

(Photo: Alex Slitz / Getty Images)

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