Three big stories: Atlanta

That’s a wrap from Atlanta.

Ryan Blaney made it six different winners in the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series season, after he overtook Kyle Larson in the closing laps of the Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500.

There’s much to discuss, but here’s what I consider the three big stories of Atlanta.

Three big stories: Atlanta

No. 1 — Kyle Larson the title favorite

HAMPTON, Ga. – MARCH 21: Kyle Larson, driver of the #5 HendrickCars.com Chevrolet, leads the field during the NASCAR Cup Series Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway on March 21, 2021, in Hampton, Georgia. Photo: Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Larson showed everyone two weeks ago in Las Vegas that he’s still a generational talent. Last Sunday, he overcame two speeding penalties to finish top-10.

Sunday, he made the case that he’s the current heavyweight favorite to win the championship.

Larson didn’t just run a strong car, he all but took the field behind the woodshed. He led a race-high of 269 laps and pulled away from the field on just about every stint in the lead. When the second stage ended, Larson finished over 10 seconds ahead of Blaney.

Granted, the high-downforce package probably compounded this, but Larson also ran down and overtook the race leader twice on-track, outside of a restart.

Furthermore, his eight playoff points leads all drivers, after six races, and only Denny Hamlin has more stage points, so far.

While this doesn’t guarantee Larson wins the championship, much less makes the Championship 4 (Kevin Harvick proves that), I’d be shocked if he’s not in the mix come time to decide the Championship 4.

Three big stories: Atlanta

No. 2 — Atlanta chokes apply to NASCAR drivers, too

HAMPTON, Ga. – MARCH 21: Kyle Larson, driver of the #5 HendrickCars.com Chevrolet, leads Ryan Blaney, driver of the #12 BodyArmor Ford, during the NASCAR Cup Series Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway on March 21, 2021, in Hampton, Georgia. Photo: Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

The history of Atlanta sports is littered with choke jobs. Some of which are legendary in the annals of sports infamy: i.e. the Falcons blew a 28-3 to the New England Patriots in Super Bowl 51 and too many blown playoff series by the Braves to count.

Larson proved, Sunday, that NASCAR drivers aren’t immune to Atlanta chokes.

As mentioned in big story No. 1, Larson all but took the field behind the woodshed. He was that dominant.

Then Blaney cut a multi-second gap down to just a car length. With six laps to go and Larson nursing worn out tires, Blaney navigated lap traffic and overtook the dominant Larson to win for the fifth time in his Cup Series career.

Keep in mind that Larson led 269 of 325 laps. This is on par with the Atlanta Braves blowing a 3-1 series lead in the NLCS to the Los Angeles Dodgers. In both cases, asset management led to their demise.

Of course, unlike the Braves, Larson could still win the championship and turn this blown victory into a minor annoyance.

Three big stories: Atlanta

No. 3 — Bristol dirt

For a college sportswriting class I took about a year-and-a-half ago at the University of Tennessee, I wrote a feature story about how the inaugural race at the Charlotte Motor Speedway ROVAL was the most anticipated NASCAR race in well over a decade.

Well, the anticipation for next Sunday’s Food City Dirt Race at Bristol Motor Speedway is in a completely different orbital plane.

This past week, multiple drivers took part of the Bristol Dirt Nationals, just to learn how to race on dirt. Heck, Kyle Busch flew from Atlanta to Bristol, after winning the Camping World Truck Series race, just to run in the Super Late Model feature.

Moreover, ever since the start of Speedweeks, FOX has built up the dirt race at Bristol each and every race. Which makes sense, given how heavily FOX pushed for this event.

And having spent the past six days inside Thunder Valley for said dirt nationals, I’m hyped as hell for it! Yes, I know I said it was a dumb idea, when NASCAR announced it last September. But unlike some other NASCAR writers, I’ll give this race a chance. Only after the checkered flag flies will I decide whether or not it’s still a stupid idea.

TOP IMAGE: Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images


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