by Jordan Bianchi Mar 5, 2017, 6:52pm EST
Kevin Harvick was near-flawless, well on his way to a dominant win in Sunday’s Folds of Honor QuickTrip 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway. Then, a late pit road speeding penalty erased Harvick’s sizable advantage and opened the door for Brad Keselowski to win the second Cup Series race of the season.
Harvick started on the pole, led 292 of a possible 325 laps, took the top position in the first two segments, and routinely built multi-second advantages over second-place. But his victory bid was undone when NASCAR penalized Harvick for speeding during a pit stop under caution with 14 laps remaining. That dropped him to the rear of the field and elevated Kyle Larson into the lead on the subsequent restart.
Larson kept the lead until Keselowski executed an inside pass entering Turn 3 with seven laps left, then drove away from Larson to secure the win.
“This one kind of fell in our lap at the end and my team put it all together when it counted,” Keselowski said. “... We were able to get by Kyle there at the end. I knew that he wasn’t going to be easy to pass. His car was great and I was able to make the right moves to get by him.”
Matt Kenseth finished third, with Kasey Kahne fourth and Chase Elliott fifth. Rounding out the top 10 were Joey Logano, Kurt Busch, Martin Truex Jr., Harvick, and Jamie McMurray.
Harvick’s penalty was one of 13 NASCAR issued for speeding on pit road, an increase from one in this race a year ago. The increase was attributed to officials installing additional timing and scoring lines. Among those caught speeding, Kenseth was busted twice, while Elliott, Logano and Truex were each nailed a single time.
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“I just made a mistake that I preach all the time that you don’t need to make and beat yourself and then you go out and make it yourself instead of following all the things you preach,” Harvick said. “That part is hard for me to follow.”
Harvick was seeking to deliver Stewart-Haas Racing its second consecutive victory following teammate Kurt Busch winning the season-opening Daytona 500 last week. The team co-owned by Tony Stewart and Gene Haas switched to Ford over the offseason, ending a long association with Chevrolet, which was expected to take the organization some time to acclimate to.