Seventeen years after he scored one of the most iconic and historic victories in NASCAR, Kevin Harvick was finally able to secure a win that had been denied him Sunday, winning the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
After leading the most laps in the last four races at Atlanta only to see victory snatched away, Harvick was nearly untouchable Sunday leading the most laps (again) and this time able to celebrate the win.
Harvick scored his first career victory at Atlanta in 2001 only weeks after Dale Earnhardt Sr. had lost his life in a last lap crash in the Daytona 500. Then a young rookie Harvick was thrust into the role of taking the seat for Earnhardt and repaid that with the win at Atlanta. Like he did 17 years ago after the win Harvick celebrated Sunday evening with a three finger salute and a tear in his eye.
“I’ve been waiting a long time to do that,” Harvick said. “We’ve had so many days where we could do that here… for five years it’s been so fast at this particular race track and a lot of other ones. I love racing here and it’s good to be back in Victory Lane finally. It took a while.”
In a race delayed two hours by rain showers, and one that many thought would never happen due to threatening rain, Brad Keselowski was one of the few drivers who could compete with Harvick. He led 38 laps and won the second stage.
“Nobody had anything for Kevin today,” Keselowski said. “Not that I’m aware of. Shoot, I think we all threw everything we had at him. He drove a great race and he had a really fast car, and that’s a potent combination. If he hadn’t had the pit road issue today, he probably would have led almost 300‑some laps.”
He had a chance to grab the lead on a restart after the race’s fifth and final caution from the blown engine of Trevor Bayne, with 21 laps to go. Harvick however was able to rocket to the lead and onto victory.
“We overcame a lot of things today,” Harvick said. “We got a late-race restart that we drove off and won the race with, so there are so many demons that seem to haunt us here for a long time, but the coolest part was being able to try to replicate that first win celebration.”
Clint Bowyer was third, Denny Hamlin who tried an alternate pit strategy was fourth, and defending Cup champion Martin Truex Jr., who started in the rear of the field after inspection issues on Friday prevented him from qualifying, was fifth.
“We had some issues there that kind of sucked,” Truex said. “I guess we’ll have to work through it. We knew there would be some issues with that deal.”
Hamlin and Joey Logano tired an alternate pit strategy in the closing laps. Both drivers pitted off sequence to the leaders, but Hamlin couldn’t hold off Harvick who powered past Hamlin on lap 290.
“It panned out good for us, but obviously the caution fell there and we were still up front,” Hamlin said. “I think we had about a 10-second gap to the next one and I thought that maybe one other car was going to catch us there, but our long run speed was so good that we felt like we needed to stay out there and have less stops and spend more time on the race track.”
Logano meanwhile finished sixth. Kyle Busch was seventh, Kurt Busch who led 52 laps early in the going was eighth, Kyle Larson ninth, and Chase Elliott tenth.
The only real trouble for Harvick came during pit stops after he had won Stage 1. The crew had an issue with the air hose and Harvick was forced to pit again returning to the race 18th, the last car on the lead lap. He was back inside the top 10 by lap 105, and back to the lead by lap 126.
It was another disappointing day for seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson. He spun while running 19th a lap down on lap 159 bringing out the race’s third caution. He finished the day 27th, two laps down. Bubba Wallace also had a forgettable day never running near the top 15 and getting suffering damage to his Richard Petty Motorsports Chevy when Bayne lost his engine. Wallace ran into the back of Ricky Stenhouse Jr. Wallace finished 32nd six laps down.
The 38th of Harvick’s Cup career came a day after he dominated in the NASCAR Xfinity race, leading the most laps in that race in route to the win.
The Monster Energy Cup series heads to Las Vegas for the Pennzoil 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. The green flag will fall just after 3:30 p.m. ET with live coverage on Fox.