The Busch Brothers Give ‘Old Atlanta’ a Great Final Battle

HAMPTON, GEORGIA – JULY 11: Kurt Busch, driver of the #1 GEARWRENCH Chevrolet, leads Kyle Busch, driver of the #18 Skittles Gummies Toyota, during the NASCAR Cup Series Quaker State 400 presented by Walmart at Atlanta Motor Speedway on July 11, 2021 in Hampton, Georgia. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

By Tyler Head

For the final time, NASCAR raced on Atlanta Motor Speedway’s rough, slick, and worn out asphalt. When Kurt Busch took the checkered flag in Sunday’s Quaker State 400, it closed the book on the 24 year old surface as 2022 will see a repavement as well as a reconfiguration.

At what will be referred to as ‘old Atlanta’ going forward, the sibling duo of Kurt and Kyle Busch put on the best type of show the track is capable of. 

After pole sitter Chase Elliott led the first 13 laps, Kyle Busch took the lead and and would dominate the remainder of the stage en route to his fourth stage win of the year. Elder brother Kurt would finish second and it was clear the 1 car had speed. Despite not winning up to this point, Chip Ganassi Racing has been hot as of late with Busch and teammate Ross Chastain combining for 7 top 10s in the last 5 races heading into Atlanta.

Kurt would beat Kyle out of the pits during the stage break and proceed to dominate himself by leading 67 laps on the way to his third stage win of the year. 

The final 100 lap stage is where things really got interesting as before restarting the race was red flagged for 20 minutes as track crews tended to a chunk of the race track that had come up on the front stretch. 

Once back underway, Kurt continued to dominate, but pit strategy would put him in a tough spot. As green flag pit stops were underway with around 50 to go, it was the 18 who hit the pits first and even thought Kurt pitted a lap later, Kyle’s one lap fresher tires allowed him to cycle to the lead.

While riding in second, Kurt asked for reassurance from his team that Kyle’s car would eventually fall off. Crew chief Matt McCall confirmed that the 18 would only be good on fresh tires for around 15-25 laps and he was right (sort of.)

With 25 to go, Kyle ran up on Chastain’s 42 car to lap him, but the 42 blocked the 18’s line going into turn 3 which allowed Kurt to pull to the inside. The following time down the backstretch, the 42 pulled up behind the 1 and gave him (at least a little) push as Kurt retook the lead in 3&4. 

Kyle wasn’t done and was in Kurt’s tire tracks for several more laps. Atlanta’s abrasive pavement allows for multi groove racing and the two brothers ran opposite lines lap after lap in an effort to out duel the other. Kyle would gain some and Kurt would pull away. Every lap hinged on each driver’s ability to manhandle their car around the slick, rough track. You could cut the tension with a knife and the fans were loving it. 

With 7 to go. Kyle dove deep into turn 1 but could only pull alongside his brother down the backstretch before the 1 cleared him once again. The 18 didn’t get near the 1 again. 

For Kurt, it was his fourth Atlanta win, which places it behind only Bristol on the list of tracks he’s won the most at. The win also comes at a very interesting time as he (at least publicly) doesn’t have any plans finalized for Cup in 2022. Chip Ganassi Racing was recently sold to Team Trackhouse and Daniel Suarez is the only confirmed driver for their two car line up so far. For Kurt, who is 42 years old, this win was the eighth straight season with at least one victory. He also has garnered a reputation of building up teams when he goes to a new one. Rumors persist that he could potentially land in a second 23XI Racing car, regardless of where he goes it is clear it will be a boost to the team. 

As for the racetrack, Sunday’s race closed the book on a remarkable 24 years with the same pavement. The track went from being insanely fast upon its reconfiguration in 1997 to extremely technical as the years went by and the asphalt began to wear out. Drivers have always loved the ability to have to wrestle their cars around a slick track while having multiple lanes to do so. The technical chess match the Busch brothers displayed was exactly what you hope for at Atlanta. 

As soon as the race ended, crews began removing the SAFER barriers around the track to prepare for the repaving/reconfiguration process. When NASCAR returns to Atlanta in 2022, the track will be steeply banked in the corners (going from 24 to 28 degrees) and the racing surface will be shrunk in the turns and on the backstretch by 15 and 13 feet respectively. The idea is that this new track coupled with the NextGen car will produce the pack style racing we see at Daytona and Talladega. It’s been well documented that almost all drivers are opposed to this change and we will have to wait and see if it lives up to the promised expectations. 

Quaker State 400 Results:

1. Kurt Busch
2. Kyle Busch
3. Martin Truex Jr
4. Alex Bowman
5. Ryan Blaney
6. Tyler Reddick
7. Chase Elliott
8. Christopher Bell
9. Matt DiBenedetto
10. Brad Keselowski
11. Kevin Harvick
12. Austin Dillon
13. Denny Hamlin
14. Bubba Wallace
15. Chase Briscoe
16. Chris Buescher
17. Cole Custer
18. Kyle Larson
19. Joey Logano
20. William Byron
21. Ross Chastain
22. Corey LaJoie
23. Aric Almirola
24. Erik Jones
25. Ryan Preece
26. Anthony Alfredo
27. Michael McDowell
28. Ryan Newman
29. Justin Haley
30. BJ McLeod
31. Garrett Smithley
32. Bayley Currey
33. Cody Ware
34. Josh Bilicki
35. Quin Houff
36. Daniel Suarez
37. Ricky Stenhouse Jr

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