This isn’t the first time we’ve seen Joe Sanchez show some speed and run up front, and it probably won’t be the last. The MPI Cup Series Rookie took home the checkered flag at virtual Atlanta Motor Speedway en route to his first career victory. Sanchez survived a chaotic race where only 19 cars finished on the lead lap.
The action started early on lap 11 when competitors in the top five made heavy contact, as Ross Harlow turned Zach Wilson, collecting last weeks winner Mario Merenda and Dakotah Curtis.
While Curtis and Harlow would survive with minor damage (both would go on to finish on the lead lap), Merenda and Wilson, two front runners so far this season, would get terminal damage and be eliminated from the race.
Another huge wreck would break out on the backstretch on lap 18, taking out another handful drivers as Judd Danielson got loose and bounced of the wall, causing an accordion effect.
When we returned to green, Sanchez found himself in second quickly after. He briefly challenged for the lead, but was passed by Ray Rodgers. When Rodgers got around for second, he would begin to challenge Alex Muscarella, who was up front every lap of the event thus far, get loose, and take out Las Vegas winner Warren Keith.
The caution would end up taking us to the stage break, with Alex Muscarella the winner.
Stage two would shockingly be caution free, as everyone kept out of trouble. Alex Muscarella would lead the first half of the stage, but on the long run, he hurt his tires, smacked the wall, and fell back quickly. By the end of the stage, he would find himself mired back in ninth. A few drivers found themselves fighting for the top spot, including Sanchez, Chris Shoemaker, and Garrett Brown. In the end, Sanchez would grab the flag to take home the stage two victory.
Sanchez and Shoemaker would win the race off pit road. Muscarella though had suffered some damage in stage two and would have to repair that damage on pit road, and would restart 24th after having the dominant car early.
We had another long green flag run, and Joe Sanchez really showed just how dominant his car was. He led every lap of the run until he was one of the first cars to bring it down pit road on lap 121 while leading Daniel Michel and Dylan Hastings.
Hastings would join Sanchez on pit road. Sanchez’s move was risky as a caution would have trapped him a lap down, but the gamble paid off. A lot of the field followed Sanchez down over the next few laps. On lap 128 though, Dylan Hastings had some serious problems, getting loose and nearly causing a caution. He did it twice in a row, but managed to keep going even after losing a ton of time.
By lap 130, only four cars remained on track, headed by Alex Muscarella who was trying some strategy to regain his lost track position. By lap 140, those same three, Muscarella, Lawson Peel, and Travis Stephens remained out, and it began to look like their strategy was going to bite them from behind.
Finally, on lap 145, they all pit, and Muscarella got a speeding penalty, meaning he’d lose even more track position.
After being a dominant car, Muscarella ended up laps down. Not just two laps later though, the caution came out, leaving those strategy cars kicking themselves.
The wreck involved Michel getting into the lapped car of Parker Bland. Michel would receive some pretty heft damage in the incident.
Things got a little hectic after that. With just ten to go, Sanchez still led them to green. Immediately after the green in turn one though, a number of cars further back, including Austin Shoemaker. Sanchez would try it again with five laps to go, and low and behold, there was another huge wreck exiting turn two. A number of more drivers were eliminated.
That set us up for a green white checkered finish in which Sanchez dominated to take home the win. He was followed by Curtis Kelly, Shoemaker, Wyatt Bracket, and Shayne Wyatt.