MENCS: Atlanta Struggles Continue for Kevin Harvick

Kevin Harvick came into the Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway looking to dominate the annual event. Harvick did just that as he led the field for 292 circuits. However, despite dominating most of the race, the California native hit a massive snag late into the running. What exactly kept Harvick out of victory lane? Stay tuned to find out.

Harvick started out the race weekend by making a statement in qualifying on Friday. He finished round one of Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series qualifying sitting fifth on the leaderboard. After advancing, he finished the second round sitting third on the time sheet in his No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford Fusion. With tires falling off due to the worn-out racing surface at Atlanta, Harvick knew he would have to really push his car in the final round to earn the pole. He’d do just that in the final round – earning him his 18th career pole in the premier series.

The pole came in just their second race under the Ford Racing banner.

“I am really excited to get our first pole with Ford,” said Harvick on Friday. “Everybody has done a great job. We have spent a lot of time getting the cars transformed into where they are today. To be at the race track and already have a win for the 41 and a pole for us and everybody running good says a lot about the effort that has gone into this transition.”

The first-place start allowed Harvick to quickly pull away from the field. He would lead the way until pitting on lap 37 – handing the lead over to second-place starter Ryan Newman. Three laps later at lap 40, Harvick found himself back into the top spot.

When stage one concluded, Harvick sat at the front of the field to earn 10 points and one playoff point. Behind him would be Brad Keselowski, Chase Elliott, Martin Truex Jr., Joey Logano, Ryan Newman, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Denny Hamlin, Kyle Larson and Jimmie Johnson. The No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing crew had a fast pit stop to keep Harvick out front to begin stage two.

Like the first stage of the race, the second stage went clean and green. Harvick, after winning the first stage, found himself leading the charge at the end of this one. Chase Elliott, Ryan Newman, Martin Truex Jr., Kyle Larson, Austin Dillon, Brad Keselowski, Erik Jones, Clint Bowyer and Trevor Bayne rounded out the top 10.

The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series veteran restarted the final stage as the race leader. He led until lap 264 – handing the lead over to Keselowski as he pitted. Two laps later at lap 247, the No. 4 Chevrolet was back into the lead and stayed in the position until things went haywire at lap 311.

That’s when Austin Dillon lost power in his No. 3 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet and stopped on the track. NASCAR had no choice but to display the yellow flag for the car stopped in turn two.

Harvick and the rest of the field had an important decision to make – to pit or not to pit? With tires so important throughout the day, crew chief Rodney Childers elected that they would come down pit road for fresh tires and fuel as so did the rest of the field.

And busted. Like 11 other drivers throughout the event, Harvick was popped for speeding on pit road on the most important pit stop of the day. This placed Harvick at the tail of the field in 35th for the restart at lap 314.

“Ya, this place, for whatever reason, I just feel like I’m snake bitten,” said Harvick after the race. “It’s my own doing today. I really didn’t think I was even close on pit lane. It gets to bouncing around, I thought I was being conservative, apparently I wasn’t. I want to thank everyone on our Jimmy Johns Ford for everything they did this weekend. I was just pushing it too hard.”

Harvick went on to finish ninth in the Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500. After finishing 22nd last weekend in the Daytona 500, the series veteran captured his first top 10 finish of the year in the series.

Stewart-Haas Racing continues their momentum as the series heads into Las Vegas Motor Speedway. The racing team, which won the Daytona 500 last weekend with driver Kurt Busch, certainly enters the 1.5-mile track in Nevada with a target on their back.

Brett Winningham

Brett has been following the sport of NASCAR since the beginning of the 2006 NASCAR Sprint Cup season. Since Brett was 13, he has had a passion of chasing a job in sports that not many get the opportunity of doing. He has been in the NASCAR media since the middle of the 2010 season. Since then, he has been a part of many racing podcast shows to improve his talents. You can find him on twitter @NASCAR_Brett.