Atlanta. Let me just say that the damned narrative I had for this race just went to crap over the final 15 laps.
Brad Keselowski won. 22 victories. This time, if he has any self respect, he needs to send out a few lines of thanks to a pair of drivers. Kyle Larson would be one of them. Larson ran low, did well, but for some reason he thought Keselowski would pass him on high, so he stayed high. Brad passed him down low, and drove away. Larson has one win, and seven runner-up finishes. I am starting to see why.
As for that other card, that should go to Kevin Harvick. I had thought I was going to write how Harvick led from start to finish. I thought I might mention how he easily claimed the first two stages, led over 200 laps to totally dominate this event. That is what I thought. Then, with about 15 to go, and under caution, Harvick sped on pit road. He went from first to 14th on the re-start, and wound up 9th.
Even though Harvick leads the standings by four over Kurt Busch, the Daytona 500 winner, and six ahead of Keselowski, that free pass to the Chase will have to wait. On the day, he was credited with 48 points, just five less than the race winner, one fewer than Chase Elliott in fifth, and more than Matt Kenseth, Kasey Kahne, Joey Logano, the elder Busch, and Martin Truex, Jr., all of whom finished ahead of Harvick at the end. A good points day, but 17 fewer than what he should have had. Brad, you are welcome.
It was a day for speeders. Dale Earnhardt, Jr. did it early, and sunk like a stone, never to be seen again. Jimmie Johnson did it twice. Expanding the timing lines on pit road seemed to have had the same effect as a new speed trap out on the highway. Sheriff Rosco P. Coltrane would have been proud. Some recovered somewhat, while others did not.
Let’s face it, Atlanta was not Daytona. Pack racing is exciting due to the “what if” factor of someone wobbling or bumping or losing traction at the wrong time. Spread them out, let the visual be of a bunch of folks just turning left a lot, and it is something only a true racing afficionado can appreciate.
That does not mean it did not come with a few twists. Denny Hamlin had an issue with the rear end of his beast, was able to go to the garage for mechanical repairs, but ran out of time to make a return viable. Ryan Newman had a crew man jump over the wall early, and when a battery issue rose up a bit later, he was toast. No spark also meant Austin Dillon was left in the cold, outside the Top 30.
Only 39 cars hit the starting grid in this one. None of the three non-Charter entries finished better than 34th. On the bright side, they did not finish dead last either. That honor belonged to the #51 of Cody Ware in the 21 year old North Carolina driver’s Cup debut. Steering issues parked him early.
Next on the schedule is Las Vegas, where word has it a second race is being sought for the venue. Keselowski has won two of the past three, on either side of a win by Harvick. Johnson has four there. Kenseth has won three. Something tells me the winner next Sunday could well have a familiar face.