By Justin Melillo
February 28, 2018
For the fifth year in a row, it was a dominating performance by Kevin Harvick at Atlanta Motor Speedway on display. This time, however, he actually found his way back to victory lane for the first time in a long time at the place that kick started his winning career.
With weather on everyone’s mind throughout the day, Harvick and the No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford outlasted the differing strategies to claim only his second win at the 1.5 mile quad-oval, his first since he won his first career Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series victory in 2001 at the same track.
“I love racing here, and it’s good to be back in Victory Lane finally,” Harvick said. “It took a while.”
Brad Keselowski was a threat at one point when it was close to raining again, but the weather held off, and the “freaky fast” Jimmy John's machine driven by Harvick was able to recapture and maintain the lead.
“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 a different strategy that included longer runs and one less pit stop, and for a while, it looked as if Hamlin would be able to spoil Harvick's party, but it was for not as Harvick's fresher tires were able to catch Hamlin time and time again.
Harvick celebrated his victory the same as his first, by celebrating with three fingers raised in honor of Dale Earnhardt in a polish victory lap.
“That was the first win in my career, and to be able to do that and pay tribute to Dale was pretty cool,” Harvick said. “I’ve been waiting a long time to do that.”
The win in the QuikTrip Folds of Honor 500 is Harvick's 38th career Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series victory, and his 99th career victory in NASCAR’s top 3 series, just a day after claiming his 98th in the Rinnai 250 for the NASCAR XFINITY Series at the same track.
Harvick definitely earned both of those victories this past weekend. He’s been dominant at Atlanta since his move to Stewart-Haas Racing in 2014, but was never able to capture the trophy. Well deserved to Harvick and his entire team.
I think it’s about time to repave Atlanta. If not for the sheer luck of the weather holding off enough for the entire race to be run, we would definitely be talking about weepers causing delays, or possibly about the aged surface coming up and damaging cars.
I always get a headache when it rains. I don’t understand why, but the clouds and the overall depressive state that occurs when it rains, especially on race day, just makes my head hurt. The start time was moved up to try and beat the rain, but it started late anyway due to the track drying efforts. However, there was no further delay once they got going, and the whole race was able to be run.
Anyway, everyone knows that the repave is INEVITABLE. The track surface is insanely old (for track surfaces in NASCAR) and even though drivers like the uniqueness of racing at Atlanta, all good things must come to an end eventually... right?
Yeah, the current configuration and surface has led to some great races in past few years. This year, the excitement of seeing if Hamlin’s strategy would upset Harvick’s dominance kept me on the edge of my seat.
Atlanta is going to be lame for the next few years after the repave. It’s bitten Kentucky and Texas most recently, but eventually, the track will wear itself in. They will probably never get the same type of racing as what we have now, but maybe we will get something better, or something more exciting.
Besides the repave, the racing was really good all weekend. Brett Moffitt made an amazing move at the end to win the Active Pest Control 200. That wouldn't have been possible without the dominant truck of the day, driven by Kyle Busch, losing a tire on the final stop.
Like I mentioned before as well, Harvick pulled double duty, and won both times. Besides the massive hit that Cole Custer took early in the race, it was mainly green flag, with Harvick putting the hurt on the rest of the competition. Overall, the entire weekend was relatively clean, which is always nice to see.
Oh, and the new Chevrolet Camaro was a non factor for most of the race. Ryan Newman led some laps at the very beginning, but after that, it was Ford and Toyota leading the way.
Hendrick Motorsports was nowhere near the front all day, and at one point, Rookie-of-the-Year contender William Byron was being outdriven by drivers on lower budgeted teams. It was disappointing to see, given the hype for the new body, but it’s early in the season and I’m sure they will figure it out at some point.
The “West Coast Swing” is next up, and I'm looking forward to the different racing we will see at each track. Phoenix... I mean, ISM is one of my favorite tracks now, and I'm really excited to see the new layout in two weeks. Las Vegas is next though, and it's another 1.5 miler. I expect the defending champ, Martin Truex Jr., to be the man to beat.
Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
DISCLAIMER: Opinions expressed are solely those of the writer.