Brad Keselowski wins Atlanta after late-race drama
Kevin Harvick was the class of the field at Atlanta Motor Speedway — but a late race speeding penalty provided Brad Keselowski with the break he needed to win the race.
Harvick led 292 laps in Sunday’s Fold of Honor QuikTrip 500 and the first two segments, but Keselowski took the lead from Kyle Larson with seven laps for his 22nd Monster Energy Cup Series win.
“These races aren’t easy,” Keselowski said. “All kinds of adversity comes at you. Kevin was very, very strong. He was probably the guy to beat. But we persevered. We had our own issues with the tire and a loose wheel, but got the Auto Trader Ford Fusion in Victory Lane. The first win of the season locks you into the Playoffs and that’s great for the team. Gosh, it just feels so good.”
For Ford Performance, it’s their second win of the season coming off of Kurt Busch’s victory in the Daytona 500.
Larson, Matt Kenseth, Kasey Kahne and Chase Elliott rounded out the top-five finishers. Harvick wound up ninth.
After running in the top-five for most of the race, Elliott was caught speeding on Lap 212. He recovered with a fifth-place finish but expected more. “Our NAPA Chevy was awesome,” Elliott said. “I really didn’t think Kevin’s car was any better than ours. I think he just did a little better job driving, managing the bottom of the race track and keeping his tires on his car and still going fast at the same time.
“I don’t think that was the reason we didn’t have an opportunity there at the end. I think we made a big shot in the right direction, me being able to keep up with him."
Harvick started from the pole and relinquished the lead only when pitting — first on a green flag stop on Lap 37 and for a second time on Lap 267 under yellow when Keselowski had to return to the pits for loose lug nuts on his left rear wheel.
Fairly clean race
The race was slowed by six cautions. The first two came at the end of segments on Lap 86 and Lap 171. The third caution was called for debris on Lap 239. Harvick had extended his lead to six-seconds over Larson when the yellow flew. Clint Bowyer, Keselowski and Austin Dillon rounded out the top five.
Gray Gaulding ignited the fourth caution on Lap 262 when his engine expired. Keselowski was second to Harvick, followed by Austin Dillon, Larson and Elliott. Keselowski beat Harvick out of the pits but dropped to 14th on the restart after returning to the pits to secure his lugnuts.
Ryan Newman also had a top-10 run going on Sunday, but when his pit crew came over the wall too soon on Lap 280, his issues escalated from there. Newman dropped from seventh to the tail end of the field. Eight laps later, his team was forced to push the No. 31 Caterpillar Chevy behind pit road when the car’s battery failed. Newman returned to the track on Lap 304 but finished 35th, 16 laps down.
“Just lost the charging system and therefore the battery went dead,” Newman said. "It took us out of it. It was unfortunate. Just really proud of the guys on the Caterpillar Chevrolet. Had a car that was capable of winning there, especially seeing who won. We were there. We took ourselves out, but it was nice to be there.”
When the race restarted with 56 laps remaining, Harvick led Austin Dillon, Elliott, Kurt Busch and Larson. Clint Bowyer and Erik Jones, who were battling for seventh, made contact on the restart. Bowyer’s tire blew 16 laps later to bring out the fifth caution.
Harvick had the lead followed by Elliott, Larson, Ryan Newman and Kurt Busch. Keselowski worked his way up to 11th and restarted eighth.
The sprint to the finish
Austin Dillon prompted the sixth caution on Lap 309 after he lost power on the No. 3 Chevy. The field pitted with Harvick in the lead followed by Elliott, Keselowski, Larson and Matt Kenseth, who had battled back from a speeding penalty after the first segment. Harvick exited pit road first, but NASCAR called a speeding penalty on the No. 4 in section 10.
“I’m so sorry guys,” Harvick said. “I didn’t even know I was pushing it.’"
Larson assumed the lead on Lap 312, when Harvick dropped to the rear of the field, followed by Kenseth, Keselowski, Elliott, Kurt Busch and Kasey Kahne. Larson maintained the point for six laps before the No. 2 Ford passed him for the lead.
Thirteen drivers, including Harvick, were busted for speeding throughout the course of the 325-lap race. Jimmie Johnson, who won the last two races at Atlanta, was busted twice. He finished 19th, one lap down.
Joey Logano, Kurt Busch, Martin Truex Jr., Harvick and Jamie McMurray rounded out the top 10.
Despite Harvick’s misfortunes, he’s the new point leader. Harvick leads the standings by four points over Kurt Busch. Jones, who finished 14th, was the top-running rookie.
“I love winning,” added Keselowski during the post-race celebration. “When you win, you never know whether you’re going to win again, it comes in spells, but gosh it feels good to get a win early in the season like this. Great race with Kyle Larson and everybody. I have to thank my team. They’ve been digging. We thought we were one of the cars to beat at Daytona and kind of got wrecked out there. Didn’t get to show our potential. But everybody here, kept their heads up, moved on here and this is what you get with this kind of effort."
|8||78||Martin Truex Jr.||Toyota||325||4.142|
Harvick remains untouchable in Stage 2 at Atlanta
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