NASCAR Auto Racing

Harvick’s penalty is Keselowski’s gain at Atlanta

Brad Keselowski poses with the trophy in victory lane after winning Sunday’s Monster Energy Cup Series race at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
Brad Keselowski poses with the trophy in victory lane after winning Sunday’s Monster Energy Cup Series race at Atlanta Motor Speedway. AP

For the fourth straight year, Kevin Harvick led the most laps in the Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500.

Once again, he failed to win.

A speeding penalty on the final pitstop with 14 laps to go knocked him out of first, a spot he held for 292 of 325 laps, and allowed Brad Keselowski to outduel Kyle Larson to earn the trip to victory lane.

Keselowski recorded his first victory at Atlanta Motor Speedway and won his 22th Monster Energy Cup Series race.

Harvick, the pole-winner who won both mid-race stages, finished ninth.

Top five

Keselowski: The driver of the No. 2 Autotrader Ford overcame a tire issue at lap 118, as well as a loose lugnut and an extra pitstop later in the race, to take the checkered flag.

Larson: Driving the No. 42 Target Chevrolet, Larson took the lead from Harvick after Harvick’s penalty but was passed by Keselowski with six laps remaining.

Matt Kenseth: After failing to score in either of the mid-race stages, the driver of the No. 20 DeWalt Flexvolt Toyota climbed into third.

Kasey Kahne: Despite some extra time in the pits early in the race and a start in the 29th position, the driver of the No. 5 Farmers Insurance Chevrolet finished fourth.

Chase Elliott: Looking for his first victory and wanting to do so on his hometown track, Elliott was second heading into the final pitstop. But he was slow exiting the pits and did not get a good jump on the restart, and the No. 24 NAPA Chevrolet finished fifth.

Turning point

Thirteen speeding penalties were called Sunday, but none were bigger than the one called on Harvick entering the pits on lap 311, which came under yellow following a stall by Austin Dillon’s car. Pit road at Atlanta Motor Speedway has a tight entrance, and Harvick took the ninth and final penalty called for speeding at the entrance. Larson inherited the lead, with Keselowski passing Larson on lap 319.

Observations

Those penalties: Pit speed became the No. 1 topic of conversation among drivers after the race. Elliott was critical of how speeding was being called, although he would not elaborate.

Clean race: There were only four incident-related cautions, all coming out in the final stage. Only one caution came from a car going in the wall, with the others caused by debris, a blown engine and a stall.

Bad luck for Newman: Ryan Newman, who started in the No. 2 position, was third after the second stage but ran into mechanical issues and finished 35th.

Worth noting

Daytona winner finishes strong: Kurt Busch, who won last week’s Daytona 500, didn’t score any stage points after qualifying 13th but wound up finishing seventh.

Big picture: Harvick leads the Cup Series points standings with 90 points, four points better than Busch. Keselowski is third, followed by Elliott and Joey Logano.

They said it

Harvick on the speeding penalty: “This place, for whatever reason, I’m snakebit. It was my own doing (Sunday). I thought I was being conservative in the pits, but I wasn’t.”

Keselowski on the win: “These things aren’t easy. There’s all kinds of adversity out there, and Kevin was the guy to beat. We had our own issues, and we fought through it all day. You don’t know if you’re ever going to win again, but, gosh, it’s good to get this win early in the season.”

Elliott on being in the thick of things the entire race: “I thought our Chevy was awesome. Kevin did a little bit better when it came to managing the track. We made a big step in the right direction keeping up with him.”

Elliott on the speeding penalties: “I think I know why, but I really don’t want to share why. There’s something that I think a lot of guys are aware of that goes on on pit road, and that’s something that will need to address internally. I have a pretty good reasoning why it was, but I really don’t want everyone else to know.”

What’s next?

The Monster Energy Cup Series heads to Las Vegas. The Kobalt 400 is slated for a 3:30 p.m. start next Sunday and will be televised by FOX.

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