How Sunday’s Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway played out:
WINNER: This time Kevin Harvick held onto the lead, Mother Nature held off the rain and Harvick went on to take the checkered flag, his first victory at the track since his very first NASCAR Cup Series season in 2001. Harvick, in the No. 4 Ford, maintained the lead after pit stops following a caution with 28 laps to go to pit, and held off the No. 2 Ford of Brad Keselowski, the 2017 winner. Clint Bowyer gave Fords a sweep of the top three spots, and Denny Hamlin, in the No. 11 Toyota, finished fourth. Last season Harvick led for 292 of 325 laps before surrendering the lead late in the race due to a pit road speeding penalty. He finished ninth. Sunday’s race started 2½ hours late due to a wet track.
“To be able to do that and pay tribute to Dale was cool, been waiting a long time to do that,” Harvick said. “We’ve had so many days we could have done that. It’s good to be back in victory lane. Finally. It took a while.”
Harvick led 173 of 325 laps Sunday one day after leading 141 of 163 laps to win the Xfinity Series race.
“It was great getting into this racecar and knowing that everybody knew they needed to beat our car,” Harvick continued. “This is a great start to getting ourselves into the playoffs. We overcame a lot of things today and had a late race restart that we drove off and won the race with.
“Things seemed to haunt us here for a long time. The cool thing was trying to replicate that first win. “
Last season, Harvick led for 292 of 325 laps before surrendering the lead late in the race due to a pit road speeding penalty and finishing ninth. Harvick had led 911 laps in in the past five years in Atlanta Cup races but couldn’t reach victory lane until Sunday.
Clint Bowyer gave Fords a sweep of the top three spots, while Denny Hamlin and Martin Truex Jr., driving Toyotas, rounded out the top five.
SMOKE, CRASH — Trevor Bayne’s engine blew with 28 laps to go, creating a huge plume of smoke behind him. As the caution flag flew, Bubba Wallace, his vision hampered, slammed into the back of Ricky Stenhouse Jr.’s car, causing significant damage to the left front of Wallace’s Chevrolet.
STRATEGY VS. STRATEGY — The final segment of the race developed into a tussle of strategies as the teams of Denny Hamlin and Joey Logano ran on a different pit-stop sequence than the other leaders, attempting to use one less stop to give them a shot at beating faster cars.
AN OVAL FOR THE BLUE OVAL — Ford teams showed strength at AMS as Chevrolets struggled in the first non-restrictor plate outing for the new Camaro model. Ford teams won the race’s first two stages and led 144 of the first 170 laps. Chevrolet led 17 and Toyota nine during that stretch.
WATCHING THE SKIES — Rain in the track area threatened to end the race early with about 100 laps to go as Kevin Harvick, Brad Keselowski and Kurt Busch wrestled for the lead. Crew chiefs puzzled over when to pit as they watched the weather.
STAGE TWO TO KESELOWSKI — Keselowski outran Kurt Busch to win the second stage on lap 170. Following were Kyle Busch, Joey Logano and Harvick.
JOHNSON STRUGGLES — The first month of the season continues to be challenging for seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson. He slid through the second turn on lap 160 to produce the race’s third caution. His Chevrolet was off the pace during the race’s first stage, and he was lapped by leader Harvick on lap 83.
PIT PROBLEMS — Harvick pitted twice during the caution that ended the first stage. A pit gun failed during the first stop. He dropped from the lead to 19th place but methodically moved through the field to regain first.
HARVICK STAGE ONE WINNER — Harvick dominated the first stage of the race, leading 64 laps and finishing 6.5 seconds in front of second-place Clint Bowyer. Also in the top five were Keselowski, Martin Truex Jr. and Aric Almirola.
A LATE START — Morning rain delayed the start of the race by two hours and 30 minutes. Track drying allowed the green flag to fall about 3:30 p.m. (ET). The race originally was scheduled for a 2 p.m. start, but that time was moved to 1 p.m. because of Sunday’s forecast of wet weather.