Sometimes it takes a while to figure out the right way to do something. It took Kevin Harvick eight tries before he won in the XFINITY Series at Atlanta Motor Speedway. It took four more tries for win number two, but he has now ripped off three straight in the series at the mile-and-a-half track outside of Atlanta, Georgia. Harvick dominated the event, beating Joey Logano to the line by 1.207 seconds. Ty Dillon was the highest finishing XFINITY regular with a third place finish. Chris Buescher landed his second top 5 in as many races to start the season and grab the series point lead. Defending series champion Chase Elliott rebounded from his first career DNF with a fifth place finish.
Harvick, the 2001 and 2006 series champion, took the green flag from the eighth position and steadily climbed to the top spot, taking it over after green flag pit stops on lap 53. He led the next 73 laps before being passed on the track by Joey Logano with the only on-track pass for the lead. During the final caution of the race, Harvick came out of the pits in the lead and was never challenged over the final 27 laps of the event. Only three drivers led during the race and all three of them are Cup series regulars. The race was slowed three times for caution periods, once for a spin, once for debris and once for fluid on the racing surface.
The race took one hour, 40 minutes and 32 seconds to complete. The average speed was 149.813 mph.
Harvck now has 45 career XFINITY Series wins, which is third on the all-time win list. Havick is four wins behind Mark Martin for second on the all-time list behind Kyle Busch. The victory is Harvick’s fourth career XFINITY Series win at Atlanta, which is statistically Harvick’s fourth-best track in the series. He has seven career wins at Richmond and five each at Bristol and Texas. Harvick has 317 career starts in the series.
Logano’s second-place run is his 18th career second place finish in the XFINITY Series. He has finished in the top 2 at Atlanta two years in a row after three straight finishes of sixth place. Ty Dillon’s podium finish is his fifth career top-3 run. He has run twice at Atlanta and this is his first top 3.
Darrell Wallace, Jr. brought his ride home in 11th and was the top finishing rookie in the field. As a result of the first two races of the season, Chris Buescher is tied with Ty Dillon for the point lead but wins the tie breaker.
Chris Buescher leaves Atlanta with the point lead, albeit via a tie breaker over Ty Dillon. Buescher missed the Daytona race to start the season in 2014 and spent the entire year playing catch-up. While he did win a race last season, he only notched five top 5s and 14 top 10s in 32 races. Driving for one of the premier teams in the sport that is unacceptable. While Roush Fenway was down across the board it still led to a frustrating season for Buescher. This was his second straight top-5 finish and the year is beginning with far more positive momentum than last season. At this point Buescher is firmly establishing himself as a very early season contender for the title.
Darrell Wallace, Jr. made the move to RFR this season in order to have the opportunity to run a full season in the XFINITY Series. Many people criticized him for the decision due to the lack of success for the RFR camp in 2014. While Wallace hasn’t landed a top 10 yet, he is fourth in points and was the Rookie of the Race. Wallace is off to a solid start to his inaugural season in the series.
Elliott Sadler is another driver who made the move from the Joe Gibbs Toyota camp to RFR during the off-season. Sadler started the season with a 19th-place run at Daytona and improved that to a 18th-place effort at Atlanta. At this point it will be some time in August before he gets to Victory Lane. While it does take time to gel with a new team and Sadler is a proven winner in all three of NASCAR’s national touring series, he is under the microscope due to his advanced years in the sport. A few more runs in a row like this and there will be serious pressure on him.
An 11th-place run at Daytona looked like a promising start for Dakoda Armstrong. Unfortunately for him, the young driver followed that up with a 20th place run at Atlanta. The Richard Petty Motorsports driver has three top 10 runs to his name in 42 career starts in the series. While RPM is not a powerhouse team anymore, they do have technical support from Team Penske, and the No. 22 was one of the two fastest cars in the field. The No. 43 isn’t expected to contend for wins every week but it certainly should be more of a threat than 20th place.
Morgan Shepherd ran two laps on Saturday. His official reason for dropping out was suspension. While we all know that is a load of malarky, they could at least give it the old college try. Start-and-parks have become much rarer these days but they still exist. If you’re going to do it, at least burn off a full tank of gas or wear out a set of tires. Two laps is an embarrassment.
The prize money for the Camping World Truck Series has been abysmal for some time and has been harangued here on Frontstretch for years. It now looks as though the XFINITY series is joining in. While Shepherd doesn’t really deserve much for his pathetic effort, the fact that the last two finishers in a national touring series race are receiving less than $11,000 is a joke. A sanctioning body that is pocketing billions of dollars and touts that they are trying to make it easier for the teams to make it to the track by cutting costs should be ashamed for such a paltry payout. Teams can’t even buy two sets of race tires for what they are being paid, let alone the fuel to haul their car to and from the track.
Underdog Performer of the Race
JD Motorsports is far from the top of the food chain in NASCAR circles. They have a grand total of two top-5 finishes in 637 XFINITY starts. Kenny Wallace shakes his head at those results. While Landon Cassill didn’t break into the top 10, he put in a solid effort and ended up two laps down in 17th when only 12 drivers finished on the lead lap. Cassill is a wheel man who truly deserves a shot in some quality equipment to showcase what he can really do. He continues to put in heroic efforts in substandard equipment week in and week out.
Double Duty Interlopers
The race on Saturday was a classic example of the big guys beating up on the little guys. Of the 163 laps of the race, XFINITY regulars led a grand total of zero laps. Harvick was out front for 101 while Logano led 59 and Matt Kenseth snared the other three. Harvick and Logano came home in first and second. Paul Menard crossed the line in sixth, while Kenseth ended up eighth thanks to some bad luck with pit strategy and Kyle Larson rounded out the top 10. Erik Jones subbed in for Kyle Busch and brought the Monster No. 54 home in 13th, and Sam Hornish, Jr. landed a 15th place finish in the No. 98. Truck Series regular John Wes Townley piloted the Zaxby’s chicken wagon to a 27th place run ahead of Cody Ware in 31st.
The Final Word
Atlanta did not disappoint in the XFINITY race. While the action at the front of the pack was far from stimulating, the rest of the field battled it out tooth and nail to the very finish. Drivers went as many as four wide trying to better their position late in the race. Tires that fall off on a race track that had sunshine on it made for some impressive racing and saves by cars on the edge of control all race long. It is appropriate that a track known for close finishes led to a points race that is tied for the top spot as it leaves the facility.
As AAA races go, the crowd was about average on Saturday. Throw in the fact that it was in the 40s for much of the race with a strong wind and the attendance was acceptable. While Atlanta doesn’t pack the place, few XFINITY or Truck Series races do, and the show at AMS is usually one of the better races on the schedule. Thankfully they at least ran the race during the daytime so handling was somewhat of an issue even when the tires were good.
Chase Elliott was disappointed in himself after the race due to losing some positions on the final restart. He attempted to try and get the second spot and it ultimately cost him quite a bit. “Everybody is going hard, that is just part of the restart,” Elliott said. “I think it was more of not being as aware of the guys around me. The guy behind me was really close and that takes all of the air off of your spoiler. I also had a guy on my outside taking all of the downforce on my right side door away and that just made it really hard to drive. I should have just given a little bit right there and not tried to take as much. Maybe tired to settle in third if that is what that meant and then tried to pass those guys later on.
Elliott also talked about how much he enjoyed tires that wear out on an old worn out racing surface. “It makes it a lot of fun as a driver to be able to go for it. If you miss your line by three inches your lap falls off by half of a second and that is a lot of fun to me. I enjoy race tracks like that and I wish there were more of them although I don’t think I’m as good as I need to be at them.”
Chris Buescher has started the season with two top 5s and it has him feeling confident about the season. “We have a very good start to the season right now,” Buescher beamed. “We are thankful to have partners like Fastenal, Cheez-It, Roush Performance and Eco Powered. We have things coming together for us finally that we are able to come out here and be competitive and get these top 5s every week. If we keep this up, I know it is only two races right now, but if we keep it up there is no doubt we can earn several wins.”
Buescher also likes the fact that he can make a difference in the outcome of his race effort. “It is one of those things that is very special to a driver. Some of these tracks have become so smooth with so much grip and paved aprons so you aren’t dipping your wheels off in grass. The character of a track is a lot of fun and this place has a ton of it. We are happy to be able to come out here and slide around and hustle on the wheel. We saved a little bit early and showed what we had at the end. It was a pretty good short stint at the end and we were able to get the most out of it.
Racing is a team sport and Ty Dillon gave a bunch of credit to his team for his success on Saturday. “Before we started the race I told Danny Stockman that all we have to do is be in the top 4 to have a shot at a win in this race” Dillon stated. “The pit crew was solid all day and Danny made the right adjustments right off the bat to give us an opportunity to drive all of the way up from the back. I’m just proud of my guys and all of the hard work they put in during the off-season. This Wesco Chevy was fast.”
Dillon was the top finishing XFINITY regular and was proud of that fact. “It is awesome. That is our plan every week to be best in class. We go on and hopefully win this championship by doing that.”
About the author
What is it that Mike Neff doesn’t do? The writer, radio contributor and racetrack announcer coordinates the site’s local short track coverage, hitting up Saturday Night Specials across the country while tracking the sport’s future racing stars. The writer for our signature Cup post-race column, Thinkin’ Out Loud (Mondays) also sits down with Cup crew chiefs to talk shop every Friday with Tech Talk. Mike announces several shows each year for the Good Guys Rod and Custom Association. He also pops up everywhere from PRN Pit Reporters and the Press Box with Alan Smothers to SIRIUS XM Radio. He has announced at tracks all over the Southeast, starting at Millbridge Speedway. He's also announced at East Lincoln Speedway, Concord Speedway, Tri-County Speedway, Caraway Speedway, and Charlotte Motor Speedway.
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