Auto racing roundup: Chase Elliott thrills Georgia crowd with Atlanta victory

AP photo by John Bazemore / Georgia native Chase Elliott celebrates in victory lane at Atlanta Motor Speedway after winning Sunday's NASCAR Cup Series race. Elliott finally won a Cup Series race at his home track on his ninth attempt.

HAMPTON, Ga. - With the home crowd cheering his every move, Chase Elliott wanted this win so badly.

He saw Corey LaJoie coming up quickly from behind.

No way Elliott was letting him by.

The Georgia-born driver powered past the upset-minded LaJoie with just less than two laps to go and crossed the finish line under caution after a big block sent LaJoie smashing into the wall Sunday at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

It was Elliott's first NASCAR Cup Series victory at what he considers his home track after coming up short on his first eight tries.

"I've witnessed guys win at their home track, and you could tell it meant a lot to them," said Elliott, the 2020 season champion who now has 16 career wins on NASCAR's top circuit. "But until you start competing at the sport's highest stage, you don't truly understand what it can mean for you. To have this moment is so special and one I'm grateful for."

Elliott pulled back around in front of the main grandstand, greeted by a boisterous ovation from fans who cheered loudly every time he went to the front and seemingly stretched all the way to Dawsonville, the north Georgia town that produced the 26-year-old winner and his father, longtime NASCAR Hall of Famer Bill Elliott.

"Awesome Bill From Dawsonville" won five times at the historic Atlanta track - and now his kid has a checkered flag there, too.

The Elliotts are the only Georgia-born drivers to win a Cup Series race in Atlanta. They are the third father-son duo to win in Cup Series competition at the 1.54-mile tri-oval, joining the Jarretts (Ned and Dale) and the Earnhardts (Dale and Dale Jr).

The wild capper to another eventful Atlanta race denied the 30-year-old LaJoie the first victory of his career, which would have been a huge shocker for the low-budget Spire Motorsports team.

On a restart with three laps to go, LaJoie led the field from the inside lane and did everything he could to hold off Elliott. But after they crossed the start-finish line for the next-to-last time, Elliott surged to the lead on the outside with a helpful push from Erik Jones.

LaJoie was setting up a good run on the leader as they took the white flag, looking to pass Elliott in the same spot where he gave up the lead. Elliott slid up the banking to cut off his challenger. LaJoie, who has only one top-five finish in his career, ran out of room and smashed the outside wall.

Ross Chastain looked to make a move on Elliott, but the yellow lights flashed with Elliott's No. 9 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet still nearly a car length ahead.

That was it. Elliott could finally relax, becoming the first three-time winner in a season when 13 different drivers have won through the first 19 points races. Chastain was the runner-up, followed by Austin Cindric, Jones and Ryan Blaney. LaJoie settled for the 21st spot.

"Obviously, I knew he was going to have a big run. I tried to give him one good, aggressive block," Elliott said. "I don't know what else to do. You go for the win or you don't. I'm going to choose option A every time."

LaJoie, whose best career finish was a fifth-place showing at this year's Atlanta spring race, nearly pulled off the most improbable victory of a wild season. He had no complaints about his fellow Chevy driver's aggressive move.

"That was fun," said LaJoie, the son of former NASCAR driver Randy LaJoie. "It's nice to have that thing out front for once. I made my move. It didn't work out."

Even Rick Hendrick, who owns Elliott's car, sympathized with LaJoie's tough-luck finish.

"If we couldn't win, I wanted them to win," Hendrick said. "He drove a heck of a race. He looked as good as anybody in this field."

There were 26 lead changes among 12 drivers Sunday. Martin Truex Jr. was leading a tight pack at the front when Chastain caused his second wreck of the day with 14 laps to go.

A two-time winner this season, Chastain also has made plenty of enemies with his overly aggressive driving. He tapped the left rear quarter-panel of Denny Hamlin's car, which sent the No. 11 into a spin that ruined his hopes of winning.

Truex led on the restart with eight laps to go, LaJoie pulled ahead on the back stretch, but the yellow flag came out again when Hamlin was bumped for a second time. This time, it was Christopher Bell trying to squeeze between Hamlin and Joey Logano, setting off a spin that took out all three cars.

A big wreck on the 91st lap was sparked by Chastain giving Truex a bump from behind coming through the first turn. Truex's car began spinning, and seven other drivers were collected in the melee, with Austin Dillon taking the biggest hit when he slammed nearly head-on into the outside wall.

Dillon was OK, but his No. 3 Chevrolet was done for the day - another tough blow for a driver who is getting increasingly desperate for his first win of the season to stake a claim to a playoff spot.

"We're just a casualty of Ross Chastain again," Dillon said after leaving the infield care center. "You want to race hard all day, but you've got guys like him out there wrecking half the field."

photo AP photo by Bob Andres / Denny Hamlin (11) and Ross Chastain crash during Sunday's NASCAR Cup Series race at Atlanta Motor Speedway in Hampton, Ga.

F1: Leclerc ends skid

SPIELBERG, Austria - Charles Leclerc had kept putting on a brave face as success escaped him and tensions mounted at Ferrari in a run of five Formula races without a podium spot for the driver.

After winning the Austrian Grand Prix, Leclerc's beaming smile was back.

He faced a big challenge in the closing laps as his throttle was not working properly, making it more difficult to control his speed into turns.

It was a different story for teammate Carlos Sainz Jr., whose hopes of a second-place finish dramatically ended when his engine blew as he was catching reigning series champion Max Verstappen's Red Bull. Sainz got out as flames were licking his race suit. Unharmed, he sat on the grass to contemplate his bad luck.

Sainz won the weekend before at the British GP, where Leclerc dropped from first to fourth. After missing out there, Leclerc bounced back to hold off Verstappen in Austria by 1.5 seconds for a third win this season. Lewis Hamilton finished third for Mercedes.

It was Leclerc's first victory since the Australian GP in April. After second place at the United States GP in May, Leclerc's five races included two he didn't finish, two fourth-place showings and one fifth.

"I kept being optimistic, but obviously hard races after hard races it felt like everything was against me," said Leclerc, who also won the Bahrain GP. "Finally we had a breakthrough, and it really feels good to have a win again."

Leclerc moved up to second overall in the season championship chase but is still a distant 38 points behind Verstappen.