While the Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 race at Atlanta Motor Speedway may have been the first test of the new low downforce rules package, the biggest surprise for many of the NASCAR drivers who competed may just have been the ‘big one’ that occurred on the very last lap.
The wreck, which occurred on the backstretch during overtime, drew the yellow flag that ended the race and crowned Jimmie Johnson the winner.
The driver with the most damage from the Atlanta ‘big one’ was Aric Almirola. His famed Richard Petty Motorsports No. 43 Smithfield Ford caught fire and literally burned up the entire back end of his race car.
Almirola was able to exit the car with the help of some of the NASCAR and fire officials. He was treated and released from the infield care center.
“This was certainly not the finish that we had hoped for,” Almirola said. “This race was a game in tire management. The tire fall off caused our tires to slide all over the track and made it incredibly difficult to keep the car on the bottom.”
“Once we fell a lap down, it was so hard to get back on the lead lap with how challenging it was to pass in a loose car. But we ran in the Top-20 all afternoon, and we had a competitive car.”
“It was disappointing to have a wreck on the last lap, especially with how hard our team worked, but I know that we’ll be able to bounce back next week in Las Vegas.”
In spite of the melee, Almirola still was able to finish in the 15th position due to the limited number of race cars on the lead lap.
David Ragan, driver of the No. 23 Dr. Pepper Toyota for BK Racing was also involved in the crash. He too was treated and released from the infield care center and finished in the 32nd spot.
“Had a lot of fun racing and working on our Dr. Pepper, Toyota Racing Camry today,” Ragan tweeted after the race. “Stinks to get torn up on the last lap! Take the good with the bad.”
One of sports’ more promising rookies also fell victim to that cursed ‘big one.’ Ryan Blaney, driver of the Woods Brother No. 21 Motorcraft/Quick Lane Racing team, went from 16th to 25th as a result of the late race carnage.
“We had an OK car all day and we were just trying to find some balance,” Blaney said. “Sometimes we were better than others and at the end, we weren’t the best. We were gonna run 13th to 15th, which would have been an OK day.”
“I didn’t know what happened initially, but I guess the 43 got a big run off the top and I was inside the 14 and got tagged in the back. That’s what they’re telling me and, unfortunately, that sent me around, which kind of stinks.”
“We were just trying to salvage a decent day out of it and it just stinks to run all those laps and then get wrecked at the end of a race. There are some things we can learn to go onto Vegas next week and we’re excited to bounce back there.”
The final driver to get caught up in the so-called ‘big one’ was Landon Cassill, driver of the No. 38 FR8 Auctions Ford.
“They just kind of wrecked in front of me,” Cassill said. “I had the car slowed down to where I felt like I was going the pace of the wreck. It wasn’t clear in front of me yet, but it was gonna be because it looked like he was gonna go to the bottom and somebody hit me from behind.”
“It was a frustrating way to end the day because it was a handful anyways. At that point, we did have a position to race for, but you didn’t want to risk anything.”
“We just wanted to bring it home in one piece and we didn’t get to do that. I hate having a tore up race car, but maybe it will give us an opportunity to take a look at it and see what we can do to make it better.”
Cassill managed a 36th place finish in spite of the crashing all around him.
One driver that just barely missed the last-lap wreck was Danica Patrick. The driver of the Stewart-Haas Racing No. 10 Aspen Dental Chevrolet scored a top-20 finish when the checkered flag flew.
“I can’t believe we made it through there at the end,” Patrick said. “I think I missed about three spins.”
Whether being a part of the race’s only wreck or just making it through, the biggest surprise for the NASCAR elite at Atlanta was no doubt the ‘big one’, especially during the waning laps of the race.
But the season is young and there will no doubt be plenty of other major wrecks to sort through. Anyone taking bets on a Vegas ‘big one?’