NASCAR Cup: Imperfect day ends perfectly for Brad Keselowski at Atlanta
Brad Keselowski does a celebratory burnout at Atlanta Motor Speedway after winning the Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 on March 5, 2017 (photo courtesy of Getty Images for NASCAR).
By AMANDA VINCENT
Ford went two-for-two for 2017 in Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series competition on Sunday with Brad Keselowski’s win of the Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway. It was Keselowski’s first win at Atlanta.
“Atlanta has always been one of those old-school race tracks. Look at victory lane; we’re out here on the frontstretch,” Keselowski said. “It feels old-school, a great place to win, a track I haven’t won at before. Gosh darn it, it feels good.”
Keselowski took the lead from Kyle Larson with seven laps remaining. Larson finished second, while Matt Kenseth, Kasey Kahne and Chase Elliott rounded out the top-five.
“I raced around Brad a lot throughout the day. Any time I was in front of him on short runs, he’d drive around me up top, and so I Knew I was going to have to take his line away on that start, there, for a couple of laps and try it,” Larson said of his failed attempt to keep Keselowski behind him in the final 10 laps of the race. “I just didn’t have enough grip, or not as much as I’d hoped. He did a good job being a lane lower than me and getting to my inside. So it was disappointing not to get the win, but I’m happy about our second-place run at a 1.5-mile, where I struggle at.”
Elliott and Kenseth were among eight drivers who combined for 10 pit-road speeding penalties, up from a single speeding penalty in last year’s race. Kenseth was one of two drivers hit with two speeding penalties Sunday. Jimmie Johnson was the other.
Kevin Harvick dominated the race, winning the first two stages and leading 293 of the 325 laps that made up the race, but he was among the drivers who were issued speeding penalties. Harvick’s penalty came with 16 laps remaining, too late to get back to the front to contend for the win.
“I just made a mistake that I preach all the time that you don’t need to make and beat yourself, and then, you go out and make it yourself instead of following all the things you preach,” Harvick said. “That part is hard for me to swallow. The good part about it is our Ford has been really fast. We didn’t know what we were going to have when we got here, and we had a great weekend the whole time. Man, I just, one way or another, I have figured out how to lose races here at Atlanta after being so dominant. We will pick ‘em up and start again next week.”
Harvick got off pit road first during the final caution, but his pit-road penalty moved Larson to the lead and Harvick to 14th, but behind the entire race field, including lapped cars.
Although Keselowski didn’t suffer a pit-road speeding penalty, his race wasn’t without its speed bumps, the latest of those being an extra pit stop for a loose wheel during a caution with 63 laps to go. He had gotten off pit road ahead of Harvick but had to return to the pits.
“We had a lot of adversity today; there’s no doubt about that,” Keselowski said. “These races aren’t easy. They’re 500 miles, and a lot can happen, and when you think you’ve got it, they slip away. I know how it goes.”
Keselowski also had to make an unscheduled stop during the second stage of the race on lap 117 because of a tire issue. But after he stopped, other drivers began to make their scheduled stops for new tires. Harvick waited 10 additional laps to pit, and when he finally made his stop, Keselowski took a 10-second lead, benefiting from the 10 extra laps on newer tires. But when Harvick had newer tires, he quickly cut into Keselowski’s lead and retook the top spot on lap 142.
When Keselowski lost the lead, he pitted again and the strategy wound up resulting in him restarting the third stage in the top-five.
Finishing sixth through 10th were Joey Logano, Kurt Busch, Martin Truex Jr., Harvick and Jamie McMurray.