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NASCAR Cup: Kevin Harvick’s Atlanta dominance finally leads to second win

Kevin Harvick celebrates in victory lane at Atlanta Motor Speedway after winning the Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 on Feb. 25, 2018 (photo courtesy of Getty Images for NASCAR).

Kevin Harvick celebrates in victory lane at Atlanta Motor Speedway after winning the Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 on Feb. 25, 2018 (photo courtesy of Getty Images for NASCAR).

By AMANDA VINCENT

Kevin Harvick’s No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford has lived up to the “Freaky Fast” slogan of primary sponsor Jimmy John’s in recent years at Atlanta Motor Speedway. In the four Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series races at Atlanta immediately preceding Sunday’s Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500, Harvick had led the most laps. That trend continued for Sunday’s race, with one change; he ended the race in victory lane.

After leading 181 of the 325 laps that made up Sunday’s race, Harvick claimed his second-career Cup Series career at Atlanta, the first coming in 2001 in his third-career series start after taking over the No.3-turned-29 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet upon the death of Dale Earnhardt. Harvick’s victory lap after his latest win mirrored that of his first, with three fingers outside the window, honoring Earnhardt.

“I’m just so proud of everybody on our team,” Harvick said. “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.”

Ford swept the top-three of the finishing order, with last year’s Atlanta winner, Brad Keselowski, taking runner-up honors, Harvick’s Stewart-Haas Racing teammate, Clint Bowyer, finished third.

Keselowski’s No. 2 Team Penske Ford looked to be the only car that could keep up with Harvick’s No. 4, especially in the second half of the race.

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

Denny Hamlin and Joey Logano attempted to overtake Harvick through pit strategy, making two green-flag pit stops to Harvick, Keselowski and almost everyone else’s three in the final 155-lap stage of the race. Hamlin led a couple of times for a few laps in the final stage, as a result, but Harvick took his final lead when he passed Hamlin with 35 laps to go.

“I just think we need to figure out how to be better than Kevin, that’s all,” Logano said. “It’s like the whole field versus one car at this point. He’s the best driver at this race track, hands-down. They’ve got it figured out at Atlanta, whatever it is. If I knew what it is, I would do it, but the fastest car won the race, as it should.”

The yellow flag waved a fifth and final time when Trevor Bayne blew his engine and Darrell Wallace Jr. hit Ricky Stenhouse Jr. in the blinding smoke with 28 laps to go. Everyone pitted, and Harvick and Keselowski restarted the race for the final time on the front row. Harvick maintained his lead on the restart and pulled away in the final laps.

After pole sitter Kyle Busch and fellow-front-row starter Ryan Newman led laps early, Harvick’s dominance began with his first lead on lap 21. He remained up front to take the first 85-lap stage win. After the first stage, though, Harvick’s team had an issue with a pit gun that resulted in a slow stop. Harvick, then, returned to pit road so his crew could confirm that all lug nuts were properly secured. He restarted 19th, last on the lead lap.

Harvick got back to the front on lap 126. He lost that lead during the third caution of the race for a Jimmie Johnson spin on lap 159. After restarting in the outside line, he lost a few more positions in the final laps of the second stage, dropping back to fifth.

Kurt Busch and Logano got off pit road first and second to restart for the third and final stage on the front row, with Keselowski and Harvick in the second row. Keselowski and Harvick were in the top-two by lap 125, and when most of the field cycled through green-flag stops with about 113 laps remaining, Harvick came out ahead of Keselowski and took the lead when Hamlin finally stopped with 100 laps remaining.

Hamlin finished fourth, and Martin Truex Jr. rounded out the top-five after starting in the back and, like Harvick, having problems with a pit gun. Finishing sixth through 10th were Logano, Kyle Busch, Kurt Busch, Kyle Larson and Chase Elliott.

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Posted by on February 26, 2018. Filed under Breaking News,Featured,Monster Energy NASCAR Cup,NASCAR. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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