Kevin Harvick Wins First Cup Series Race At Atlanta Motor Speedway Since 2001

by February 25, 2018 0 comments

HAMPTON, Ga. – Kevin Harvick cruised to victory in Sunday’s rain-delayed Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway, 17 years after claiming his first win at the track after taking over the ride of the late Dale Earnhardt Sr.

Harvick paid tribute to Earnhardt by raising three fingers out of his window as he drove around the track celebrating his win in his No. 4 Jimmy Johns Ford. Although Harvick has led 1,152 laps at Atlanta Motor Speedway in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, Sunday’s win was his first at the track since his debut start in 2001. Harvick also won the NASCAR XFINITY Series race at the track on Saturday afternoon.

“I’m just so proud of everybody on our team,” Harvick said as he reflected on his victory celebration. “That was the first win in my career and to be able to do that and pay tribute to Dale was pretty cool. I’ve been waiting a long time to do that. We’ve had so many days where we could do that here, but I just want to thank everybody from Stewart-Haas Racing, Jimmy John’s, Busch, Ford, Mobil 1, Outback, Hunt Brothers, Morton Buildings, Textron Off Road, Liftmaster, everybody who puts this car on the race track and for five years it’s been so fast at this particular race track and a lot of other ones. I love racing here and it’s good to be back in Victory Lane finally. It took a while.”

With the threat of rain in the area lingering throughout the entire race, several different strategies unfolded over the course of 325 laps. Harvick stuck to the plan and out-raced the strategy with pure speed and a late caution that reset the field.

Brad Keselowski in the Team Penske No. 2 Autotrader Ford gave it everything he had to try to catch up to Harvick in the closing laps. The dominance of Harvick’s Ford was unbeatable. Keselowski had to settle for a second-place finish, his sixth top-10 at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

“We were good, but we just weren’t as good as Kevin was,” said Keselowski following a second-place finish on Sunday. “We had a strong race car, but just couldn’t quite find that last little bit of speed we needed.”

Harvick’s Stewart-Haas Racing teammate, Clint Bowyer was able to capture a third-place finish in the event. Bowyer was thrilled to experience early success in the season, and the driver of the No. 14 Haas Automation Ford believes his team has made enough positive changes in the off-season to continue to perform.

“It’s a fun race track,” said Bowyer. “There aren’t many places left that can put on a show like that and be able to race all over the place, so I just appreciate this place. I appreciate Harvick’s speed. He was so fast. Man, I’m telling you our Haas Automation Ford was good all weekend long. All of our Stewart-Haas cars were fast. That’s a credit to everybody’s hard work over the offseason and it paid dividends here tonight. It’s raining now. How about that? Mother Nature allowed this to happen, so I’m proud of everybody and all our partners – Mobil 1 to Wix to One Cure and everybody involved. It’s a lot of fun to be able to run like that so early in the season.”

Denny Hamlin went for a different pitting strategy, hoping rain would show up early while he remained out front. No rain showed until following the race, ending Hamlin’s hope of the strategy beating Harvick’s ride. Hamlin finished in fourth on Sunday.

“I knew that we had really good long run speed,” said Hamlin, driver of the Joe Gibbs Racing No. 11 FedEx Ground Toyota. “We were short of the 4 (Kevin Harvick) car, but we were probably one of the better cars on long runs. We wanted to optimize our time on the race track similar to what we did in Darlington last year and if a caution fell, great and if it didn’t then we had a pretty good gap there back to third place before the caution fell and the guys that short-pitted, their tires were already starting to fall off and they were in the same second bracket that we were in.”

Martin Truex, Jr. completed the top-five in the finishing order. Joey Logano finished sixth while also attempting a different pit strategy. Kyle Busch, Kurt Busch, Kyle Larson and Chase Elliott rounded out the top-10.

Kevin Harvick easily took the win in Stage 1 with a significant lead over second place. Harvick’s No. 4 team then struggled with their new NASCAR-issued pit gun on the pit stop following Stage 1. Harvick was forced to restart mid-pack. The green flag flew for Stage 2 on lap 94. Harvick regained the lead with 45 laps to go in Stage 2. He then hit pit road, before cycling back to the lead after his scheduled green-flag pit stop.

After a bad restart for Harvick with seven laps to go in Stage 2, Keselowski won the stage. Harvick finished Stage 2 in fifth.

The final caution of the race occurred on lap 298, when Trevor Bayne’s No. 6 AdvoCare Ford suffered a blown motor, covering the track in a thick cloud of smoke as he dropped to the apron. Darrell Wallace Jr. in the No. 43 NASCAR Racing Experience Chevrolet made hard contact with Ricky Stenhouse Jr. in the No. 17 Ford in the midst of the chaos as the smoke billowed from Bayne’s car.

“It wasn’t like a normal engine blow up, so I had reduced power for about five or six laps and then when it let go it wasn’t like a big moment where it let go,” Bayne said. “I actually saw the smoke and smelled it before the engine changed, so that was about the most smoke I’ve ever dealt with on an engine blowing up, so I’ll be interested to hear what happened and see it, but that was a bad day goes worse.”

The late caution set up for a wild restart with 21 laps to go. Harvick soared out to the lead with the field battling four-wide behind him. No one was able to stay on the bumper of Harvick’s car as he rushed away to capture the win.

Team Penske’s Joey Logano leaves Atlanta Motor Speedway with the points lead. His teammate, Ryan Blaney trails him by six points.

The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series now heads west for the next three race weekends. First up, the series takes on the 1.5-mile Las Vegas Motor Speedway for the Pennzoil 400 on March 4. Live coverage will be found on FOX and the Performance Racing Network (PRN) at 3:30 p.m. ET.

Photo Credit: Daniel Shirey/Getty Images

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