What’s the best way to win a race? Ensure that much of the competition is not even in a position to beat you, which is what Kevin Harvick did during Sunday’s (June 7) Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
The veteran driver moved to the lead for the first time within the first 50 laps and, as the hot and muggy Georgia afternoon went on, led three more times for a total of 151 circuits. The reward was his third career win at the 1.54-mile quad-oval, the track where Harvick earned his first career win in 2001.
Just like his other triumphs at Atlanta, Harvick marked the occasion by holding three fingers in the air during his victory lap in honor of Dale Earnhardt.
— FOX: NASCAR (@NASCARONFOX) June 7, 2020
“Obviously, the first win came for me in Atlanta. This is a racetrack that I have taken a liking to,” Harvick said. “You always want to come back and have those memories, and now, you want to celebrate everything that Dale Earnhardt did for this sport. To be able to do that with wins and be in victory lane, it’s pretty special.”
Harvick needed just a few laps into the race’s final stage to get back into the lead, getting a shove down the backstretch and passing Kyle Busch on the high side to move to the point. It was all Harvick from that point on. Building on a lead of at least two seconds, the field’s only hope to catch Harvick was a caution flag that never came. Putting car after car one lap down, just 10 finished on the lead lap by race’s end.
“We had a great pit stop, restarted on the bottom, and got my car to take off. I was able to get track position,” Harvick explained. “Once I was able to get through those 10 laps, my car was where I could get in a rhythm and start hitting my marks. By about lap 25, I could start driving away.”
The way the race unfolded was somewhat reminiscent of Harvick’s 2018 success in Atlanta. That day, Harvick led 181 laps, getting to the front for the first time 21 laps into the event. He never looked back.
This time, while everything was going right for the No. 4 team, other contenders had their share of bad breaks. Teammate Clint Bowyer was the most notable casualty, suffering through multiple flat tires that derailed a top-five run.
14 of @ClintBowyer has overheated several RR tires during the NASCAR Cup race at Atlanta. It is a combination of having a "loose" race car, the speeds they are running, the heat that is generated on that corner of the car and the abrasive track surface.
— Goodyear Racing (@GoodyearRacing) June 7, 2020
Goodyears were not the only things worn down by Atlanta’s racing surface. Both Ryan Newman and Bubba Wallace showed visible signs of fatigue during FOX’s television coverage after the race ended. Wallace was later treated and released from the infield care center.
Not surprising so many drivers flat wore out after this race with only 5 cautions for only 24 yellow flag laps…that means 301 green flag laps on a hot, muggy day @PRNlive
— Mark Garrow (@GuruGarrow) June 7, 2020
Attrition was also evident during the race despite only two DNFs. As the checkered flag fell, the sixth-place car was more than 10 seconds behind the leader. The aforementioned 10 lead-lap cars were the fewest for any race in 2020.
“We ended up second and not too far behind the No. 4, who is the best here. It’s hard to beat him when you come to his home turf, if you will, in Atlanta,” Busch said afterward. “Overall, my guys did a great job. We were able to keep it up front all day, we were able to have good pit stops all day, I didn’t screw up and speed on pit road, so we had that going for us. Hopefully, we can keep building on this momentum and keep rolling.”
Harvick’s domination as the track temperature cooled ended hopes of a win by Truex, who took the first two stages and led 65 laps on Sunday. But third remained the best finish of the season for Truex, a building block for the No. 19 car and new crew chief James Small.