Harvick claims second win of the season at Atlanta

Kevin Harvick took command in the final stage and cruised to a dominating win in the Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway. The victory was Harvick’s second of the season, third at Atlanta and the 51st of his NASCAR Cup Series career. The win was Harvick’s 28th while driving the No. 4 car for Stewart-Haas Racing and it moved him into 12th place on the all-time Cup wins list. The win also came as Harvick’s crew chief Rodney Childers celebrated his 44th birthday.

The starting lineup was based on a random draw. Hometown hero Chase Elliott drew the pole position and shared the front row with Aric Almirola. Kurt Busch dropped to the rear of the field and was assessed a pass-through penalty down pit road at the start of the race for failing pre-race inspection three times. Corey LaJoie and Garrett Smithley also dropped to the rear of the field for failing inspection twice along with Timmy Hill and Cole Custer, both due to unapproved adjustments.

Following the opening pace laps, the field parked on the frontstretch, the crew members stood above the pit wall and the entire NASCAR community paused for a moment of silence/listening before NASCAR president Steve Phelps addressed the competitors and fans in a PA message, citing a need for change toward the stemming acts of racial inequalities and injustices in society. During this time, a video was aired that featured multiple Cup competitors addressing a unified message against racial inequality.

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When the green flag waved, Elliott, who started on the inside lane from the pole, rocketed away with the lead followed by Joey Logano as Almirola, who started on the outside lane, dropped to third and battled with Kyle Busch through Turn 2. By the fifth lap, Elliott maintained a half-second lead over Logano followed by Almirola, Busch and last year’s Atlanta winner Brad Keselowski. Behind the leaders, a multitude of competitors were dicing against one another for early positions through each corner and straightaway.

By the 10th lap, Reddick, who started 24th, was in 13th while Erik Jones, who started 14th, was in eighth. Teammates Clint Bowyer and Harvick were battling for sixth followed by Martin Truex Jr., who started 11th. Jimmie Johnson, who started 15th and gave the command for drivers to start engines, was in 12th. After serving his drive-through penalty at the start of the race, Kurt Busch was in 39th, one lap behind.

When the competition caution flew on Lap 25, Elliott had managed to stretch his advantage to three seconds over Almirola followed by Logano, Harvick and Kyle Busch. In addition, Daniel Suarez remained on the lead lap and Kurt Busch, who was in 32nd and the first car a lap down, was the recipient of the free pass and returned to the lead lap under caution. Under caution, the leaders pitted. Following the stops, Logano emerged with the lead followed by Kyle Busch, Harvick and Elliott. During the pit stops, Blaney was pinned behind another car while struggling to exit his pit stall and lost a multitude of positions, where he settled inside the top 20.

When the race restarted on Lap 30, Logano led the field in Turn 1 followed by teammates Harvick and Bowyer as Truex Jr. went three-wide with Almirola and Hamlin in Turn 2. Truex used the high lane to his advantage to gain more spots and make his way inside the top five. In Turn 3, William Byron slipped and made contact with the outside wall due to a cut right-rear tire, which forced him to make an unscheduled pit stop on Lap 32 to have the damage repaired to his No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet. The damage cost Byron six laps. The race, however, remained green as the field continued dicing for positions, with Logano leading by half a second over Harvick. Meanwhile, Reddick advanced to sixth and started to pursue Busch and Truex for position in the top five while Elliott fell back to seventh.

On Lap 36, Harvick emerged as the new leader after passing Logano in Turn 3. Nine laps later, Truex and Kyle Busch made their way to second and third while Logano slipped to fourth and in a battle with Bowyer. Through Lap 50, Kurt Busch, who was back on the lead lap following the competition caution, was in 15th.

By Lap 60, Harvick’s lead stabilized to nearly a second over Truex and the driver of the No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford had also lapped 10 cars. Behind him, Kyle Busch trailed by more than six seconds while Bowyer trailed by nearly nine seconds after overtaking Logano for position following a lengthy battle.

Four laps later, green-flag pit stops initiated when Ryan Newman was the first to pit. During the cycle of the stops, Newman and Keselowski returned to pit road after both were penalized for speeding during their stops. When the stops cycled through, Harvick returned to the lead and was ahead by nearly four seconds over Truex. Bowyer, Logano and Elliott moved into the top five, trailing Harvick by more than 10 seconds, while Kyle Busch fell to sixth ahead of Reddick. Almirola, who was in 13th, pitted again due to a loose wheel and to have lug nuts tightened on his machine.

By Lap 80, Harvick’s lead decreased to above a second over Truex as Harvick started to approach lapped traffic. Six laps later, Truex gained a huge run on Harvick in Turn 2 and made a move on the inside lane to take the lead entering Turn 3 and pull away by half a second. During this time, Kyle Busch overtook Elliott for fifth while Johnson and Kurt Busch were running ninth and 11th.

Just when Truex was trying to lap Bubba Wallace, the second caution flew on Lap 95 when John Hunter Nemechek spun entering Turn 4. At the time of caution, Wallace was able to remain on the lead lap while Matt DiBenedetto, who was in 18th and the first car a lap down, was the beneficiary of the free pass to return on the lead lap. Under caution, the leaders pitted and Truex retained the lead over Harvick followed by Bowyer, Logano and Kyle Busch.

With six laps remaining in the first stage, Truex received a bump from Bowyer and Kyle Busch on the inside lane to take off with the lead through Turn 1. A lap later, Busch took second while Harvick settled in fourth. In Turn 3, Jones, Reddick and Hamlin went three wide before Jones came out in fifth and Stenhouse and Elliott joined the battle with Reddick and Hamlin.

While the field continued jostling for position, Truex held off teammate Busch by two-tenths of a second to win the first stage and collect his first stage win of the season. Bowyer finished third followed by Hamlin and Harvick. Elliott, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Jones, Johnson and Blaney finished in the top 10 while Reddick was shuffled back to 18th.

Under the stage break, the leaders returned to pit road for service. Following the stops, Bowyer gained two spots to emerge as the new leader followed by Truex, Kyle Busch, Hamlin and Elliott. Following the pit stops, Logano, Kenseth and Bell sustained damage after making contact on pit road.

The second stage started on Lap 112 and Bowyer used the inside lane to lead the field through Turn 1. Truex, however, received a bump from Hamlin to fight back on the outside lane entering Turn 3. Truex and Bowyer battled against one another hard for the lead as Hamlin made a three-wide move on Harvick and Elliott in Turn 3 to gain more positions before settling in third over Elliott, Kyle Busch and Harvick. By Lap 116, Bowyer cleared Truex and maintained his advantage by less than half a second. 

Through Lap 125, Bowyer stretched his lead to above half a second over Truex. During this time, Elliott, Hamlin and Kyle Busch settled in the top five, Johnson was in seventh ahead of DiBenedetto, Jones was in ninth followed by Alex Bowman and Kurt Busch was in 11th ahead of teammates Blaney and Keselowski. In addition, Stenhouse and Wallace were in 14th and 15th while Newman and Matt Kenseth were in 21st and 25th. Reddick had fallen back to 23rd while Bell was the highest-running rookie in 17th. After racing toward the front at the start of the race, Almirola and Logano were in 18th and 24th.

On Lap 147, early disaster struck for Bowyer when he made an unscheduled pit stop for four fresh tires and perceived that he had a cut right-rear tire. Bowyer’s move allowed Truex to return to the lead, who was more than two seconds ahead of Hamlin.

With the race reaching Lap 156, a second round of green-flag pit stops commenced. Five laps later, nearly all the leaders pitted, except for teammates Keselowski and Blaney. Once the two front-runners pitted, Bowyer returned as the leader three laps later, leading Truex, who had fresher tires than Bowyer, by more than eight seconds. 

By Lap 175, Bowyer’s advantage over Truex decreased from eight to less than two seconds while Kyle Busch trailed by three seconds. During this time, Bowman moved to sixth followed by DiBenedetto, Johnson and Elliott. Keselowski and Blaney, following their stops, were in 10th and 13th and Bell was in 14th followed by Stenhouse. Wallace, who was running within the top 15 prior to the green-flag stops, fell back to 29th to have a left-rear loose wheel fixed on his No. 43 Richard Petty Motorsports Chevrolet, which cost him two laps. 

By Lap 185, after gaining more ground on Bowyer, Truex returned to the lead in Turns 1 and 2. In addition, Kyle Busch gained a huge run in Turn 4 to move into the runner-up spot and Bowyer settled in third. On Lap 198, Hamlin gained a huge run through Turns 1 and 2 to move into third over Bowyer.

With nine laps remaining in the first stage, just as Harvick passed Bowyer for fourth, the caution returned when Michael McDowell spun entering Turn 4 following contact with teammate Nemechek and slid through the grass before coasting his No. 34 Front Row Motorsports Ford through pit road. Under caution, the leaders pitted and Kyle Busch emerged as the new leader followed by Truex, who came to a near stop trying to avoid starting in second on the outside lane. Truex’s move stacked the field towards the end of pit road, but he exited second followed by Harvick, Blaney and Keselowski.

With four laps remaining in the second stage, Busch and Truex battled through Turn 3 before Truex reassumed the lead followed by Blaney as Hamlin battled Busch for fourth. As the laps dwindled, Jones fell off the pace after being pinched into the wall with help from Bell, which cut his right-front tire. With no caution waving, Truex was able to hold off the field and win the second stage followed by Blaney, Kyle Busch, Hamlin and Elliott. Harvick, DiBenedetto, Keselowski, Bowyer and Johnson rounded out the top 10.

Under the stage break, the leaders pitted and Kyle Busch exited pit road first again followed by Truex, Harvick, Elliott, Keselowski and Blaney.

When the final stage started with 108 laps remaining, Kyle Busch received a push from Harvick to take off with the lead while Truex slipped to third. In Turn 3, Harvick made a move on the outside lane to return to the lead. A lap later, Truex moved into second as Busch battled Keselowski for third. Another lap later, Elliott used a crossover move in Turn 4 to move to fourth over Keselowski. 

With 100 laps remaining, Busch, who had retaken second from Truex, narrowed his deficit to two-tenths of a second behind Harvick, but Harvick increased his lead to six-tenths three laps later as Truex retook second. Ten laps later, 90 to go, Harvick extended his advantage to a second over Truex with Kyle Busch trailing by two seconds and Elliott by more than three seconds. Another 10 laps later, Truex decreased the deficit to six-tenths of a second, but Harvick stabilized his lead to over a second five laps later.

With 65 to go, the final round of green-flag pit stops occurred, starting with DiBenedetto pitting. Under the pit stops, Ty Dillon was assessed a speeding penalty. With 54 to go, after the field cycled through the stops, Harvick was back in the lead, leading by nearly two seconds over Truex, four seconds over Kyle Busch and nearly eight seconds over Hamlin.

With 48 to go, Jones, who was trying to race his way back onto the lead lap following his contact with the wall at the conclusion of the second stage, pitted for service to his No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota, but returned shortly after being assessed a speeding penalty.

As the laps continued to dwindle, Harvick started to stabilize and stretch his lead to a comfortable margin over Truex while making his way through lapped traffic. With 20 to go, Harvick was ahead by more than two seconds over Truex’s No. 19 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota. Kyle Busch was behind by nearly five seconds, Blaney by nearly 11 seconds and Hamlin by 14 seconds.

With 14 to go, disaster struck again for Bowyer as he made his second unscheduled pit stop of the day to have a flat right-rear tire changed on his No. 14 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford. This misfortune cost him two laps and drew him out of contention for a top-10 result.

With four to go, Busch made his way to second as Truex started to fade. By then, Harvick was long gone. With Busch unable to mount a late rally, Harvick was able to cruise to the checkered flag and win by nearly four seconds over Busch’s No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota. After taking the checkered flag, Harvick did a reverse victory lap while holding three fingers outside of his car. His move mirrored the three fingers salute Harvick made after winning his first Cup race at Atlanta in 2001 and paying tribute to the late seven-time NASCAR champion Dale Earnhardt Sr.

“Obviously, [my] first win came for me here at Atlanta and this is just a race track I’ve taken a likening to,” Harvick said. “You always come back and have those memories, and now you want to celebrate everything that Dale Earnhardt did for this sport. To come here and be able to do that with wins and go to victory lane is pretty special. [The pit crew] had a great pit stop. We got a restart on the bottom [lane] and it got my car to take off. I was able to get track position and then, once I could get through those first 10 laps, my car was freed up enough to where I could get in a rhythm and really start hitting my marks. By about Lap 25, I could start driving away. Just proud of everybody from Busch Light, Ford, Stewart-Haas Racing, thank you, guys, for everything…you, the fans. We appreciate everything you guys do for us.”

Busch settled in second for his third runner-up finish and sixth top-five result of 2020 while Truex finished third and claimed his first top-five result of this season. Blaney and Hamlin finished fourth and fifth while Kurt Busch rallied from his pass-through penalty at the start of the race to finish sixth for his seventh top-10 result of this season. Johnson finished seventh in his 29th and final start at Atlanta while Elliott, Keselowski and Logano rounded out the top 10.

Following the race, Wallace, who finished 21st, was taken to the infield care center after appearing light headed while exiting his car, but he remained alert and awake. He would later be released from the care center.

The race featured 21 lead changes with nine different leaders. There were five cautions for 24 laps. Only 10 cars finished on the lead lap.

With his win, Harvick extended his lead in the Cup Series regular-season standings as he now leads by 48 points over Logano and 56 over Elliott. 

Results:

1. Kevin Harvick, 151 laps led

2. Kyle Busch, seven laps led

3. Martin Truex Jr., 65 laps led, Stage 1 & 2 winner

4. Ryan Blaney, two laps led

5. Denny Hamlin

6. Kurt Busch, one lap led

7. Jimmie Johnson

8. Chase Elliott, 26 laps led

9. Brad Keselowski, five laps led

10. Joey Logano, 10 laps led

11. Austin Dillon, one lap down

12. Alex Bowman, one lap down

13. Ricky Stenhouse Jr., one lap down

14. Ryan Newman, one lap down

15. Matt Kenseth, one lap down

16. Tyler Reddick, one lap down

17. Aric Almirola, one lap down

18. Christopher Bell, one lap down

19. Cole Custer, one lap down

20. Clint Bowyer, one lap down, 58 laps led

21. Bubba Wallace, one lap down

22. Chris Buescher, one lap down

23. John Hunter Nemechek, one lap down

24. Michael McDowell, one lap down

25. Matt DiBenedetto, one lap down

26. Ryan Preece, two laps down

27. Corey LaJoie, two laps down

28. Erik Jones, three laps down

29. Ty Dillon, three laps down

30. Brennan Poole, four laps down

31. Daniel Suarez, nine laps down

32. Quin Houff, 11 laps down

33. William Byron, 12 laps down

34. Josh Bilicki, 12 laps down

35. Garrett Smithley, 13 laps down

36. J.J. Yeley, 14 laps down

37. Reed Sorenson, 15 laps down

38. Joey Gase, 17 laps down

39. Timmy Hill – OUT, Electrical

40. B.J. McLeod – OUT, Clutch

Next on the NASCAR Cup Series schedule is Martinsville Speedway, which will occur on Wednesday, June 10, for the Cup Series’ third midweek race of this season. The race will air at 7 p.m. ET on FS1. 

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of SpeedwayMedia.com.

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