NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Brad Keselowski Wins, Kevin Harvick Speeds in Atlanta

Brad Keselowski held off Kyle Larson to win Sunday’s Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway. The win, his 22nd in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, gives Ford a second win to start the 2017 season.

“You never know, that’s how these races are,” Keselowski said. “We had a lot of adversity today, there’s no doubt about that. There are 500 miles and a lot can happen.”

Keselowski’s first Atlanta triumph came in surprising fashion after Kevin Harvick sped on the final pit stop, giving away his chance at victory. A similar fate seemed to hit the No. 2 team earlier in the race, when crew chief Paul Wolfe called

Keselowski from the lead back to pit road due to a loose wheel. Still, Keselowski bounced back.
“When you think you’ve got it, they slip away,” Keselowski said. “I know how it goes. This one kind of fell in our lap at the end and my team put it together when it counted.”

The race seemed to be over by the drop of the green flag for the Atlanta field, as Harvick held a solid two- to four-second gap throughout the day. Leading 293 laps from pole, the No. 4 Ford was untouchable… until the speeding clock caught him with 16 laps remaining. Harvick would finish ninth despite leading the most laps for the second straight week in 2017.

“This place, for whatever reason, I just feel like I’m snake-bitten,” Harvick said. “It’s my own doing today. I really didn’t think I was even close [to speeding] on pit lane. I thought I was being conservative, apparently I wasn’t.”

The devastating mistake opened the door for Larson to take the lead on the final restart. Giving it his all, The No. 42 driver couldn’t keep Keselowski at bay for career win No. 2.

“I try to run on the cautious side of things,” Larson said regarding the pit road penalties. “A lot of guys pushed the limits and got caught at the end.”

Behind the Freaky Fast man was a plethora of drivers in the second spot throughout the day. Chase Elliott had a few shots at Harvick on the race’s few restarts, but failed to take the lead. The sophomore driver finished fifth.

“We caught a caution at the right time,” Elliott said. “Had a good pit stop, jumped a few guys. Good restart and the outside lane got stacked up. Got back into fifth. A little luck, it just didn’t work out when it counted.”

Those few restarts were few and far between until the final 50 laps of the night. With only two breaks in the action in the opening 242 laps, both due to Stages 1 and 2, long-run speed and a lack of mistakes became crucial for all the teams.

Despite the little room for error, Matt Kenseth overcame two pit road penalties to finish third in his No. 20 Toyota. It is Joe Gibbs Racing’s first top 10 of 2017.

Kasey Kahne completed the top five in fourth while Joey Logano, Daytona 500 winner Kurt Busch, Martin Truex Jr. and Jamie McMurray rounded out the top 10.Clint Bowyer finished 11th after cutting a tire and hitting the wall with 47 laps to go.

Richard Childress Racing, however, suffered issues they could not overcome. Second-place starter Ryan Newman suffered a battery issue in his No. 31, killing a solid top-five run in the making. His teammate Austin Dillon also had the same problem, brining out the race’s final yellow with 17 to go.

Cole Whitt brought a 20th-place finish to TriStar Motorsports, the single-car team running their first Cup season since 2013.

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