Kevin Harvick dominated Race 2 of the 2018 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series campaign at Atlanta Motor Speedway. Harvick last one at the Georgia track in 2001, his first Cup Series win, after taking over the ride of Dale Earnhardt, following Earnhardt’s fatal crash three weeks prior on the last lap of the 2001 Daytona 500. On Sunday night, Harvick paid tribute to Earnhardt and that emotional day 17 years ago by replicating his 2001 backwards victory lap in which he saluted “The Intimidator” in 2001, then again Sunday night, holding three fingers out the window paying tribute to the legend who drove the 3 car.
During the victory celebration, Harvick beamed with pride and gratitude, reminiscing about that day 17 years earlier. “I’m just so proud of everybody on our team,” Harvick said. “That was the first win in my career (in 2001), and to be able to do that and pay tribute to Dale was pretty cool. I’ve been waiting a long time to do that… “I love racing here, and it’s good to be back in Victory Lane – finally. It took a while.”
Harvick had been unable to win in the last four MENCS races at AMS, despite leading the most laps in each of those events. Harvick led 181 of the 325 laps, beating Brad Keselowski by 2.690 seconds for win number 38 of his career. However, this Sunday wasn’t free of challenges. Harvick won the first stage, but while on pit road under the Stage 1 caution, the air hose blew off the pit gun carried by the front tire carrier. That forced Harvick back to pit road to make sure his lug nuts were tight. Harvick restarted Stage 2 on lap 94 in the 16th spot. He reached leader, and teammate, Kurt Bush on lap 126 to take over the race lead.
The first caution of the day for an incident came on lap 159 when Jimmie Johnson’s right front tire blew exiting Turn 2.
Keselowski was strong enough on the restart to win Stage 2. He would end his night in Atlanta as the runner-up.
The final stage began and Denny Hamlin and Joey Logano tried a two-pit-stop strategy under green. Harvick stopped for service on lap 289, sticking with three stops, returning to the track 1.8 seconds behind Hamlin. Two laps later, with fresher tires, Harvick reclaimed the top spot. He then began to pull away from the field. Hamlin would finish fourth and Logano sixth.
Harvick was out front by more the four seconds when the fifth, and final caution of the race came out when Trevor Bayne’s engine blew in Turn 2 op lap 297. The thick cloud of smoke from Bayne’s car was so thick, the Daytona 500 runner-up, Darrell Wallace Jr. couldn’t see in front of him. As he drove through the blinding smoke, he rear-ended Ricky Stenhouse Jr.’s Ford.
On the lap 305 restart, Harvick was able to get a jump and stretch his lead to almost four seconds, which helped seal his victory. “It was great getting into this race car and knowing that everybody knew that they had to beat our car,” Harvick said. “I’m just really, really happy with everything that we’ve done at Stewart-Haas Racing over the last five years, and this is a great start to getting ourselves in the Playoffs and doing everything that we need to do.”
Harvick’s SHR teammate, Clint Bowyer finished third. Martin Truex Jr. rallied from the 35th starting position to finish fifth. The rest of the Top-10 were Logano, Kyle and Kurt Bush, Kyle Larson and Chase Elliott finishing 6th-10th, respectively.
Listen to Episode 2 of Track Talk from Atlanta, below.