Who’s in the headline – For most of the race Sunday, it looked like Kevin Harvick would be the the whole story of the QuikTrip Folds of Honor 500. Unfortunately for him, a pit road speeding penalty on Lap 311 put an end to the storybook day for the 2014 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion. That opened the door for Brad Keselowski ,who chased down Kyle Larson and passed him for the lead on Lap 319. Keselowski went on to score the victory in the 58th annual race.
What happened – The green flag flew on a beautiful Sunday afternoon in Hampton, Georgia, and the full effect of segment racing was put on display. Different drivers went on different tire strategies and the race saw eight lead changes among four drivers over the first 311 laps.
That might sound like some exciting racing at the front of the pack, but Harvick led 292 of those 311 laps. Throughout the rest of the pack, the racing was intense, with cars running grooves from the top to the bottom of the track. During the race, 13 speeding penalties were issued to 11 drivers, who have a combined nine Cup championships.
The final one saw Harvick have to give up the lead and ultimately a shot at winning the race. That left the door open for Larson and Keselowski. Larson fired off with the lead on the final restart, but he could not hold off the charge of Keselowski, who chased him down and passed him with under seven laps to go and went on to win.
Why you should care – The main reason to care about the developments of this race are this is exactly why the playoff points and segment rules were put into place. Harvick dominated the day and as a result, left the race with more points than everyone except Keselowski and Chase Elliott.
In addition, Harvick is third in playoff points accumulated thanks to his segment win at Daytona and his two segment wins Sunday. Keselowski and Kurt Busch each have five playoff points for their victories in the first two races. Kyle Busch has the other playoff point that has been awarded for his segment win at Daytona.
What your friends are talking about – Segments are first and foremost on many fans’ minds again this week based on the way the racing unfolded on Sunday. The segments were basically sprints for points, followed by a typical race that unfolded over the final 148 laps. The strategies that unfolded were obviously influenced by the segments and the final stretch of the race had the right mix of cautions and tire wear.
Repaving the race surface at Atlanta has been one of the most unpopular decisions in racing for the last six months. Drivers, including race winner Keselowski, will tell Marcus Smith and anyone at SMI who will listen, that they don’t want the surface repaved. While the reasons for repaving are obvious, the racing will suffer for several years if and when it happens. Fortunately for fans of racing, Smith stated at Atlanta that the decision makers will reconsider whether to go through with the repave after this weekend’s event. The track will have to be repaved at some point, but the longer it can be managed the better.
A fan knocked over some oil in the Cup garage on Sunday morning, splashing it onto two tires from Kyle Busch’s inventory for the race. Goodyear officials took the tires and cleaned them. Stu Grant, General Manager of World-Wide Racing for Goodyear, said the tires were cleaned with a mild detergent which would not compromise the integrity of the compound. Teams cannot put any kind of solvent onto the surface of their race tires and that is why the Goodyear officials had to perform the cleaning.
The rampant rumor this weekend in Atlanta is that Las Vegas Motor Speedway is going to get a second Cup date. The race will occur in the fall. The bottom line is that no ISC track is going to give up a date. That leaves the SMI inventory. There is no chance Texas will give up a date after they had to sue to get the second date in the first place.
Charlotte is the home of NASCAR and SMI, so it is HIGHLY unlikely that any dates will leave their flagship race track. That leaves New Hampshire Motor Speedway as the most likely candidate. It is a terrible thought to have another race date moving from a short track to a mile and a half, but that would appear to be the writing on the wall. North-Eastern NASCAR fans need to show up in force to make that decision as difficult as possible.
Tech inspection for qualifying was jacked up again at Atlanta. There seems to be major difficulty in getting cars through tech at Atlanta. After several cars missed qualifying in 2016 at the track, the same thing occurred this year. Five drivers did not make a qualifying run due to delays in tech and several more were rushed to the line at the last minute. There is entirely too much inspection that occurs on race weekend. Weigh them, tech one or two things and move on. After qualifying tear down the top five and a random car or two and call it good.
Who is mad – Harvick is mad but he’s got no one to blame but himself. He said on his radio that he was not pushing it on pit lane, but he sped in two segments on his final run down pit road. That mistake cost him the race once again. He’s been dominant for four years in a row but has no hardware to show for it.
Denny Hamlin was in the top ten after the first segment but had a rear end failure in the second stage. He went behind the wall, but the new five minute clock did not apply because it was a parts failure. The team replaced the rear end but he was nearly 80 laps down when he came back on the track. Once he was unable to gain any positions he pulled it back behind the wall and retired.
Randall Burnett, the crew chief for AJ Allmendinger, might be the maddest of all after Sunday. In the post race lug nut inspection, the No. 47 had three loose lug nuts. Under the current point system, Burnett is going to be suspended for three races and fined $65,000. That might be palatable if the team was battling for a good finish. Allmendinger was three laps down and battling with Paul Menard for 25th place. That is a tough reason to be off of the pit box for the next three weekend.
Who is happy – Kasey Kahne was a rather large disappointment last year for Hendrick Motorsports. The HMS driver was not in the Chase and rarely close to competing for wins. Atlanta has always been good for Kahne and, after receiving the Lucky Dog on the caution that ended the first segment, he battled back to score a fourth place finish. While it isn’t a win, it is a solid run on a mile and a half track which is what dominates the current NASCAR schedule.
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. might not have been too happy leaving the race track on Sunday after a 13th place finish with a car that ran near the front most of the day. In hindsight, he will hopefully see that he was strong and battling for the lead for much of the first half of the event. The Roush Fenway Racing cars have been far from earth shattering for quite some time. That run has to build a solid foundation for the next few races for the No. 17.
When the checkered flag flew:
Brad Keselowski won the 58th Annual Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500. It is his 22nd victory of his career in 271 starts.
This is his first win of 2017 and his first career win at Atlanta.
Keselowski is tied for 34th on the All-Time wins list with Terry Labonte.
Kyle Larson finished second on Sunday for his first top two run at Atlanta.
This is Larson’s first runner-up run of the season.
Larson has finished second seven times in his career.
Larson is tied with Michael Waltrip, G.C. Spencer and Lennie Pond for 76th on the All-Time list.
Matt Kenseth rounded out the podium with his fourth career top three at Atlanta.
This is Kenseth’s first top three of the season.
On the All-Time list Kenseth is tied with Dale Jarrett and Kyle Busch for 22nd.
Erik Jones was the Rookie of the Race thanks to his 14th place finish.
Kevin Harvick has led 734 of a possible 1,315 laps (55.8%) in the last four Atlanta races. Unfortunately he’s been unable to win any of them.
Thanks to their wins, assuming there are not more than 16 winners in 2017, Kurt Busch and Brad Keselowski will make the Playoffs. The remaining top 16 drivers in points are:
- Kevin Harvick
- Chase Elliott
- Joey Logano
- Kyle Larson
- Martin Truex Jr.
- Ryan Blaney
- Kasey Kahne
- Trevor Bayne
- AJ Allmendinger
- Jamie McMurray
- Aric Almirola
- Clint Bowyer
- Paul Menard
- Matt Kenseth
What is in the cooler – Was it side-by-side, fenders banging, sparks flying as they crossed the line? Nope. Was the finish a little anti-climactic thanks to the penalty handed out to Harvick? Possibly. That said the racing was still fantastic throughout the field. The strategies were varied and constantly changing. Pit road speeding penalties jumbled the field and ultimately cost Harvick the victory. All of that together earns this one five cold Atlas Pale Ales from Reformation Brewery in Atlanta.
Where do you point your DVR for next week – The West Coast swing starts in Sin City Sunday March 12th at 3:30 p.m. ET. The race can be seen on your local FOX station. It can also be heard on your local PRN affiliate, the PRN app, PRN web site and SiriusXM NASCAR Channel 90.