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Thinkin’ Out Loud: Brad Keselowski Overcomes Loose Lug Nuts, Takes Advantage of Others Speeding to Win Atlanta

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 happyKasey 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:

  1. Kevin Harvick
  1. Chase Elliott
  2. Joey Logano
  3. Kyle Larson
  4. Martin Truex Jr.
  5. Ryan Blaney
  6. Kasey Kahne
  7. Trevor Bayne
  8. AJ Allmendinger
  9. Jamie McMurray
  10. Aric Almirola
  11. Clint Bowyer
  12. Paul Menard
  13. 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.

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Bill B

The race itself was kind of by the numbers, nothing really special.

The first unintended consequence of the segments showed up. Harvick held back from lapping Danica in segment 1 and then did the same with Kurt Busch in segment 2. Had he not known there was a segment break coming up (and the caution that goes with it) he would have lapped them both when he had a chance. Instead he backed off knowing he’d keep the lead until the caution flag flew and let them stay on the lead lap. This is a minor deal but it wouldn’t happen if Harvick didn’t know when the caution was going to fly.

And since there was no mention of it, I will award Austin Dillon and his team “the selfish dick of the week award”. The team knew there was an issue (Newman had already encountered it) and instead of telling Dillon to come into the pits, the team told him to stay out on track to bring out a caution, thereby making his problem everyone else’s and pretty much costing Harvick the win (no caution and Harvick wins, not that I personally have any love for Harvick). I have no tolerance for someone that stays out on the track in their own self interest when they know they have a problem and affects the flow of the race for everyone else. If you know you have an issue you should come into the pits ASAP, and if you don’t and it affects the race in any way, you should be penalized 10 laps (or parked). So Austin Dillon, you are the dick of the week.

budsudz

Agreed Bill. Austin Dillon clearly turned right to stay on the track vs. coming down pit road. I actually don’t think it was “selfish.” My thoughts are that the call came from higher up. Perhaps even a Ford vs. Chevy call, with Elliott and Larson able to close the distance with the caution.
Also, for the second year in a row, Atlanta provides another great “old-fashioned” race. Take out the segment cautions and you very well could have mimicked last year’s three caution flag attrition race.
While I don’t want this type of race every week, it’s refreshing to see teams have to have the speed and strategy to keep up the whole race vs. the welfare Lucky Dogs and Wave-Arounds that allow them a free pass for early troubles.
The segments did provide Harvick with some solace via the points. As always, a minor mistake at the end of the race is much move heavily weighted than a mistake early in the race.

Bill B

Well his crew chief definitely told him to stay out, and perhaps you are right, that the call came from higher up but that doesn’t make it right. Clint Bowyer’s spin in 2013(?) came from higher up too, but he was the one that committed the “crime”. Regardless, if they start parking teams/drivers/manufacturers that do selfish things that affect the outcome of the race, the practice will soon stop.

dh

I didn’t think of the manufacturing push either. I think it’s always BS when cars stay out and it causes the caution flag (ACS last year, same thing). While i don’t like it, it’s part of the sport i guess…like the walk in baseball. That said, i do like the long green flags at AMS, and agree with budsudz that a few of those a year is pretty awesome, 10 cars on the lead lap isn’t a bad thing.

you know, i wonder – if the wave around and lucky dog were taken away for the segment racing – would it make the racing even better. People scampering and pushing the limits to get back on the lead lap – diff strategies, who knows. Jury is still out on the segments – but i believe that the races like yesterday where someone is on it – will lead to the 3 segment win days. Hands down – i expect a few more or these, like JJ in Dover, potentially Harvick in Phoenix, Truex at Charlotte (only based on one year)

Ok now i’m rambling. But still sucks to watch your guy dominate only to make a mistake that is unrecoverable. Oh well – onto LVMS.

Oh, and is it just me – or does no one else want this track to be repaved???

Bill B

I’d like the track to never be repaved but all things must pass. The bottom line is that nothing lasts forever so we will basically be just kicking the repave down the road. If it can be kicked for 5 or more years then I could see waiting but if not, then might as well get it over with.

janice

i think dw’s love of kyle busch has bled over to logano.

i think dw needs new prescription for his glasses. my tv showed empty stands, not a sell out.

glad to see where dale jr is picking right back up where he left off last year with sub-par racing.

Andy

Harvick owes Dillon a payback for that little stunt. The 3 team should face some sort of penalty and/or suspension, but we all know that won’t happen. It is these late, avoidable cautions that ruin these type of races and Dillon and his team took a giant dump all over the results of this one.

Russ

watched as much as I could stand of a parade and went to find something more interesting to do. But it seems like nothing has changed. The racing is still bad, segments dont change that. nor will they.

Steve

Reading several articles today (I didn’t watch much of the race) I heard the battles in the back of the pack were good. Apparently they were never shown on tv, so it appeared that the race was a snoozefest. Blame FOX for their sub par coverage once again on this one. A hyper-shot of Harvick for 200 laps must have been great to watch.

Capt Spaulding

Same as the great coverage of the cars crossing the finish line……..must suck to have a favorite you want to see racing to the finish after wasting 3+ hours on a Sunday afternoon.

Steve

The network that provided fans with a gopher all those years, apparently still doesn’t get, and never will get, what the fans want to see. They think the crew celebrating and showing the pit box is more important than the race itself. And they wonder why people are uninterested in the sport. They show everything but the racing itself.

DoninAjax

I wonder if Brian has to pay a penalty because only 39 cars started the race. If he does, I wonder who he will get to pay it for him since he, like Trump. doesn’t like to pay for anything himself.

Steve

Wow. I actually thought I could come into one of these Nascar pages and not have to hear about politics. Guess I was wrong.

DoninAjax

It wasn’t political. It was economic. They’re both all about money.

Steve

Don’t care. I don’t want to hear about any kind of politics on a Nascar board. If I wanted that, I would go to any other news source, since there is no shortage of negativity there.

rg72

I wouldn’t completely dismiss the prospect of Charlotte losing a race. While the Charlotte area is still home to most of the race teams and the Hall of Fame, it is a changed area over the last two decades with a lot of transplants that didn’t grow up NASCAR fans. The pedestal of Charlotte being the home of NASCAR and therefore untouchable has gotten overrated.
In an era when most tracks have reduced capacity, Charlotte may have removed the most seats in the last decade and still has issues filling what remains. I think even more seats are rumored to be knocked off in the near future.
From a racing standpoint for what it’s worth, it may be the worst track on the circuit right now.

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