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NASCAR: Chase Elliott gets his third win of 2022 at Atlanta Motor Speedway

Chase Elliott has the most NASCAR Cup Series wins of any driver in 2022.

Elliott took the lead from Corey Lajoie with less than two laps to go and was in first place when LaJoie hit the wall and caused a big crash on the last lap to get his third win of the season.

Elliott has won two of the last three Cup Series races and finished second a week ago at Road America. He deftly passed LaJoie just after they crossed the start/finish line with two laps to go and LaJoie hit the wall while making a desperate move on the final lap as Elliott blocked his attempt.

LaJoie was searching for the first win of his Cup Series career in the hopes of making the playoffs for the first time. He had the lead ahead of the final restart of the race with three laps to go but was no match for Elliott over the final three miles.

The win is the Georgia native's first at Atlanta.

"To win at your home track is a really big deal to any race car driver," Elliott said.

Elliott led 97 of the race's 260 laps and was easily one of the strongest drivers throughout the entirety of the race. He lamented finishing second to Tyler Reddick a week ago at Road America a week ago after Reddick passed him and drove away in the final stage. Had Elliott hung onto the lead at Road America, he'd be looking at the first three-race win streak of his career.

HAMPTON, GEORGIA - JULY 10: Chase Elliott, driver of the #9 NAPA Auto Parts Chevrolet, celebrates after winning the NASCAR Cup Series Quaker State 400 at Atlanta Motor Speedway on July 10, 2022 in Hampton, Georgia. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)
Chase Elliott, driver of the No. 9 NAPA Auto Parts Chevrolet, celebrates after winning the NASCAR Cup Series Quaker State 400 at Atlanta Motor Speedway on July 10, 2022, in Hampton, Georgia. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images) (Jared C. Tilton via Getty Images)

LaJoie might not have shaken up playoff field

There’s no guarantee that LaJoie would have gotten into the playoffs with a win on Sunday at Atlanta.

A LaJoie win would have been a massive upset. He drives for backmarker Spire Motorsports, a team that spends exponentially more time outside the top 25 than it does in the top five. And LaJoie entered Sunday’s race 31st in the points standings.

That’s key. Drivers can automatically qualify for the Cup Series playoffs with a win if they’re in the top 30 in points. But LaJoie was 34 points back of 30th entering Atlanta and would have still likely been outside the top 30 even with a win.

If he doesn't climb into the top 30 by the regular-season finale in Daytona, he won't be eligible for the playoffs. Now that Elliott has his third win of the season, there are still 13 winners through the first 19 races of the season. Four winless drivers would have to win over the next seven races for a driver with a win to miss out on the 16-driver playoff field.

Ross Chastain continues making contact

Ross Chastain found himself in the middle of two incidents on Sunday afternoon. And he still finished second to Elliott.

Martin Truex Jr. went spinning off Chastain’s bumper in the second stage of the race after the two drivers made contact. It wasn’t easy to blame Chastain for that wreck. While he wasn’t directly lined up behind Truex, he was also not near Truex’s bumper until Truex got loose and had to get out of the gas.

The second incident, however, may come back to cost Chastain in the playoffs. He slid up into Denny Hamlin with less than 10 laps to go and caused Hamlin to spin. That was the second time in six weeks that Chastain had made contact with Hamlin as Hamlin vowed to get revenge on Chastain after the first incident in St. Louis.

It’s no secret that drivers and teams throughout the Cup Series aren’t thrilled with Chastain’s aggressive driving. And they’re not going to cut him any slack in the playoffs. Chastain will likely get bumped and pushed around over the final 10 races of the season, and it’s hard to see him as a legitimate title contender as a result. While Chastain and his Trackhouse team have showed enough speed to compete for the Cup Series title, it’s way too easy to see him on the receiving end of other drivers’ aggression in the postseason.

Truex still looking for first win of 2022

Martin Truex Jr. looked like he could get his first win of the season until he dropped back after contact with LaJoie while racing for the lead right after the final restart.

Truex fell all the way from second to 11th after the contact. He remains the second winless driver in the points standings after Ryan Blaney.

Blaney finished fifth after entering the race second in the points standings to Elliott.

Atlanta as made-for-TV track

Attendance on Sunday at Atlanta was miserable. It was generous to say the grandstands were half full on an 85-degree day in the metro area. Why?

It’s no secret that it gets hot in the Southeast in the summer. NBC and NASCAR knew that with a 3 p.m. start time on Sunday afternoon. It easily could have been 10 degrees or more hotter on Sunday. And it’s easy to see why fans might have shied away from going to the race because there was a chance of rain.

But did that chance of rain — it never rained — and summertime highs really keep people away from the track? Or is there just not enough local interest at Atlanta?

The track was reconfigured ahead of the 2022 season to produce pack racing like Daytona and Talladega. That reconfiguration helped Atlanta score a second Cup Series race this season despite longtime attendance struggles at its one annual race in recent years.

While the grandstands were fuller than they were on Sunday for the reconfigured track’s debut in March, there were still plenty of seats available. And it’s easy to wonder if Atlanta is the first made-for-TV reconfiguration in NASCAR’s modern era.

Why else would the track have been given a second race date after consistently being unable to sell out its lone race of the year? It’s no secret that far more people watch NASCAR on TV than do in person on a weekly basis, and TV ratings for races at Talladega and Daytona tend to be higher than they are for other tracks.

Any TV viewer increase cancels out the empty grandstands at Atlanta. And it’s hard to see how NASCAR and Speedway Motorsports executives didn’t have that in mind when brainstorming Atlanta’s redesign. We’ll find out over the next few years if that increase actually happens, or if NASCAR fans aren’t too keen on adding a track designed to create pack racing to the schedule.

Race results

1. Chase Elliott

2. Ross Chastain

3. Austin Cindric

4. Erik Jones

5. Ryan Blaney

6. Daniel Suarez

7. Justin Haley

8. Aric Almirola

9. Cole Custer

10. Harrison Burton

11. Martin Truex Jr.

12. Kevin Harvick

13. Kyle Larson

14. Bubba Wallace

15. Michael McDowell

16. Chase Briscoe

17. Todd Gilliland

18. Brad Keselowski

19. Christopher Bell

20. Kyle Busch

21. Corey LaJoie

22. Kurt Busch

23. Cody Ware

24. Landon Cassill

25. Denny Hamlin

26. Joey Logano

27. Garrett Smithley

28. Ty Dillon

29. Tyler Reddick

30. William Byron

31. Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

32. Alex Bowman

33. Chris Buescher

34. Noah Gragson

35. Austin Dillon

36. BJ McLeod