Martin Truex Jr. won the first two stages, but Kevin Harvick led all but three of the final 108 laps to win NASCAR’s yearly visit to Atlanta.
Time will tell when Trae Young and Matt Ryan are allowed to provide the Atlanta area some clutch fourth quarter antics again. Kevin Harvick was more than happy to fill the quota on Sunday at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
The driver of the No. 4 Stewart-Haas Ford led all but three of the Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500’s final 108 circuits en route to his second win of the 2020 NASCAR Cup Series campaign. His second win of season, both coming during NASCAR’s ongoing return from the coronavirus-induced pause, has now afforded him a 48-point cushion in the Cup Series points standings.
Harvick previously won The Real Heroes 400 last month at Darlington Raceway.
Atlanta has always been a special place for Harvick. The 1.5-mile oval played host to Harvick’s first Cup Series victory back in 2001. Then driving the No. 29 Chevrolet for Richard Childress Racing, it was only his third start in NASCAR’s premier division after replacing the late Dale Earnhardt Sr. in his rebranded No. 3 car. Harvick held off Jeff Gordon by .006 seconds to secure the emotional win.
No such dramatics were needed on Sunday. After leading 46 laps during the opening stage, Harvick retook the top spot from Kyle Busch on a semi-permanent basis at the onset of the third stage. The three-lap mercy was granted only when Harvick made his final pit stop on lap 269 of 325, forcing him to briefly relinquish the lead to Ryan Blaney and Joey Logano. He would retake first place after the two fellow Fords made their own stops for service and faced little resistance en route to victory lane with a 3.527-margin over the aforementioned Busch.
Harvick commemorated his latest win as he did his first, wielding three fingers from his car as he made a victory lap around the track to pay tribute to Earnhardt. The seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion passed away in a crash on the final lap of the 2001 Daytona 500. Overall, Harvick has now won three races at Atlanta, the second coming in March 2017.
The newest Atlanta triumph was historic in several ways. For one thing, it came as Harvick’s crew chief, Rodney Childers, celebrated his 44th birthday. They have been paired up since they each joined Stewart-Haas Racing in 2014. Together, they have finished the final standings’ top three in all but one of their six full seasons, the first of which ended with the Cup Series title.
Additionally, Harvick’s 51st Cup Series victory earns him sole possession of 12th-place on the circuit’s all-time wins list. He was previously tied with NASCAR Hall of Famers Ned Jarrett and Junior Johnson.
Martin Truex Jr. won the first two stages of the race, his first pair of the season. He finished third after a hard-fought battle with his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Busch, while Blaney and another Gibbs Toyota, that of Denny Hamlin, rounded out the top five.
The NASCAR Cup Series will quickly return to action, as series travels to Martinsville Speedway for the Blue-Emu Maximum Pain Relief 500 on Wednesday night (7 p.m. ET, FS1). Martinsville’s starting lineup will be determined by a tiered draw based on car owner points.
- Prior to the start of Sunday’s race, NASCAR addressed the ongoing nationwide protests against systematic racism and police brutality against African-Americans. With each of the 40 participating cars stopped at the start/finish line, NASCAR President Steve Phelps addressed both drivers and fans about the current events, encouraging action in fighting racism. “Our country is in pain and people are justifiably angry, demanding to be heard,” Phelps said. “The black community and all people of color have suffered in our country, and it has taken far too long for us to hear their demands for change. Our sport must do better. Our country must do better.”
- After Phelps’ speech, several renowned drivers appeared in a video urging fans to take action in the battle for justice and equality.
- Bubba Wallace, the only African-American driver on the Cup Series level, was seen sporting a shirt bearing the words “I Can’t Breathe” and an American flag face mask during the prerace ceremonies. The shirt’s words refer to Eric Garner and George Floyd, African-American victims of police brutality six years apart. Members of Wallace’s No. 43 Richard Petty Motorsports Chevrolet crew were also seen holding the shirts.
- After finishing 21st on Sunday, Wallace appeared to faint during separate interviews with Fox Sports’ Jamie Little, an apparent result of exhaustion and dehydration. Wallace was later examined and released from the infield care center.
- Kurt Busch (brother of Kyle) was forced serve a pass-through penalty on pit road after his No. 1 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet failed prerace inspection three times. Busch lost a lap, but earned it back prior to a competition caution on lap 25. He would go on to recover and finish sixth.
- In addition to the competition caution, only four other yellow flags came out on Sunday. Two signaled the end of the first two stages, while the others accounted for separate spins from Front Row Motorsports teammates John Hunter Nemechek (lap 96) and Michael McDowell (lap 203).
- B.J. McLeod (clutch) and Timmy Hill (electrical) were the only two cars that failed to finish the race.
For full race results, click here
For full standings, click here
Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags