Overcoming loose lug nuts, Brad Keselowski bounced back with a win as Ford remain undefeated after two races
The only driver that could stop pole sitter Kevin Harvick’s dominance at Atlanta Motor Speedway in Hampton, Georgia was Harvick himself. A late-race pit road speeding penalty dimmed Harvick’s chances of scoring his first win in a Ford-powered vehicle.
Harvick’s misfortune became Brad Keselowski’s gain as he crossed the line first in the Folds of Honor QuickTrip 500.
Keselowski passed Kyle Larson with seven laps remaining to earn his first win since Kentucky last July. Larson finished second.
In an interview, Larson said he had to take the high lane away from Keselowski after running most of the race down low.
“Anytime he ran in front on the short runs, he drove on top and I knew I had to take his line on the restart,” Larson said. “I tried but didn’t have enough grip than I hoped. Brad did a good job being a lane lower than me and get to my inside. Disappointing that I didn’t get the win but happy about our second-place run.”
Keselowski’s road to victory lane didn’t came easy as an unscheduled pit stop and a loose wheel kept him from catching race leader Harvick.
A stalled Austin Dillon brought out the sixth and final caution, putting Keselowski back in contention.
Keselowski restarted third and pushed Larson to the lead on the final restart.
Larson led four laps until Keselowski passed him in turn three for the race’s sixth and final lead change. Keselowski beat Larson by .564 seconds and led 21 of 325 laps.
Keselowski said his Team Penske pit crew stayed focus and knew it wasn’t going to be easy to overcome adversity.
“There’s all kinds of adversity that comes at you,” Keselowski said. “We had our own issues with a tire and a loose wheel. The team fought through it all day and it feels good to get one early in the season like this.”
Harvick bounced back from the speeding penalty and finished ninth after leading 293 laps. The race marked Harvick’s sixth consecutive race without winning after leading the most laps.
Harvick said he takes accountable of costing his chance of winning at Atlanta, the sight of his first Cup win in 2001.
“I was going to fast on pit road, I really hate it for everybody on my team,” Harvick said. “They put a great car under me. I knew I needed to be close to pit road speed because we were having trouble getting out of the box. But I didn’t think I was pushing it that close.”
Harvick said the bumps coming out of the pits becomes difficult for competitors to recognize if they’re speeding on pit road.
“The bounce on pit road is why there’s so many speeding penalties,” Harvick said. “You have to run it so close and I was too fast.”
Several top contenders also fell victim of pit penalties including Hendrick Motorsports teammates Dale Earnhardt, Jr., Chase Elliott and Jimmie Johnson.
The penalties continued after the race as NASCAR discovered three unsecured lug nuts from A.J. Allmendinger’s No. 47 JTG Daugherty Racing Chevrolet.
The No. 47 team were charged with a $65,000 fine, a 35 points penalty and a three-race suspension for Allmendinger’s crew chief Randall Burnett.
The point deduction dropped Allmendinger from his 11th points position to 35th after finishing third in the Daytona 500 Feb. 26.
In a press conference interview, Keselowski said in moments where a driver has a setback, others must take advantage.
“(The No. 2 Autotader Ford) certainly caught an opportunity,” Keselowski said. “I didn’t think much of Harvick because I still had multiple cars to pass. I was just worried to do the best I can to make the most of our day. The doors open with making passes on the last restart and getting by Larson. I hate losing like Harvick did but when you win like we did, you take it and move on.”
Despite the penalty, Harvick leads the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series standings by four points over Stewart-Haas Racing teammate and seventh place finisher Kurt Busch.
The Cup drivers head west to Las Vegas Motor Speedway March 12. Keselowski is the defending race winner.