NASCAR heads to Atlanta
Speedweeks 2018 is all finished but the NASCAR schedule is just beginning. Many fans say that the regular season doesn’t start until week two at Atlanta.
The restrictor plate racing at the superspeedways is so unpredictable and usually it turns into a survival game. The mile and a half Atlanta Motor Speedway is a perfect storm of worn-out pavement and tricky handling challenges to make the crew chief and crew use every ounce of their know-how.
All three of the top divisions of NASCAR race at this track. Fans have a tendency to call this size track “Cookie Cutter” because this size raceway makes up a large part of the schedule. Charlotte, Las Vegas, Chicago and others all fit the mile and a half description. Each of these tracks has their own challenges. Let’s take a look and see how this past week’s races played out.
Saturday was a very busy day! Two divisions would race back to back along with qualifying and practice. First up, the Xfinity series ran the Rinnai 250. Christopher Bell put his JGR Toyota on the pole.
When the flag dropped it was literally the Kevin Harvick show! He absolutely dominated the event. He swept the stages and even when the caution bunched up the field he would just drive away.
Joey Logano appeared at one time to be catching Harvick. His crew chief was on the radio calling out that he was catching him. Joey laughed and said he’s just playing with me. I slow down and he slows down. I run harder and he just drives away.
Kevin’s car was one of the most dominant cars I’ve seen in a long time. His Hunt Brothers Pizza number 98 Mustang could not be touched. Logano was driving the strong Penske Racing Mustang and came home second.
Christopher Bell’s Toyota finished up in third place. Xfinity rookie candidate John Hunter Nemechek was running his first-ever race in this series and finished fourth. Veteran Elliott Sadler rounded out the top five. There were only seven cars on the lead lap at the finish.
Later in the afternoon the Camping World truck series took to the tricky pavement for the Active Pest Control 200. Veterans Kyle Busch and Matt Crafton led qualifications. Kyle’s teammate Noah Gragson beat the boss man to grab the stage one win. Then Kyle came back and won stage two. A late race caution sent everyone pitside.
Kyle decided during his pit stop to only take two tires. The pit crew had removed the lugs on a third tire and as he exited the pits he lost a wheel and any chance of victory.
On that final restart, young Brett Moffitt drove the lap of his life and passed three trucks before turn one. The others raced amongst themselves and he drove away to his second truck series win. Brett drives for Shige Hattori, a former racer from Japan, and this was the first win for his Asin Group race team.
Noah Gragson and Johnny Sauter battled it out for second and third. Ben Rhodes and Matt Crafton rounded out the top five. Youngster Myatt Snyder chose to take two tires and caused Kyle Busch to change his mind on his stop. Myatt led them to that final green but just couldn’t get going. The last lap was one of the best I’ve seen in a long time.
On Sunday the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup series was set to run the Folds of Honor Quick Trip 500 but rain caused a long delay of the start and there was a chance of rain washing out the race also.
Kevin Harvick has not only dominated Xfinity racing at Atlanta, but in the last five Cup races he has led over 900 laps; still, he hasn’t won there since he won the first race of his Cup career 17 years ago when he took over the Dale Earnhardt Sr. car for the RCR team after Dale’s death at Daytona.
Kevin got off to a great start picking up the stage one win. Brad Keselowski came on strong and snatched the second stage win. The Fords proved that Roush Yates horsepower is hard to beat.
When the checkered flag flew Harvick and his Stewart-Haas racing Freaky Fast, Jimmy John’s Sandwich Ford was able to run the reverse victory lap once again. He proudly held the three fingers high just like he’s wanted to do since that first win. He literally had tears in his eyes in victory lane.
Keselowski held on for second. Clint Bowyer had a very good day, finishing third in the team car to Harvick. Denny Hamlin in his JGR Toyota attempted to play a different fuel strategy and led briefly toward the end. He was no match to the Fords and finished fourth. Martin Truex Jr. rounded out the top five in fifth.
There were only 13 cars on the lead lap at the end and five of the top 10 were Fords.
This week the Series moves to the Las Vegas Motor Speedway and another mile and a half track. I’ll bring you all the results next week and remember, at the end of the straightaway there’s another left turn.