Brad Keselowski wins 2017 Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway

Following the Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway, Lucy Atkinson looks at how Brad Keselowski secured victory after Kevin Harvick fell at the final hurdle.

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HAMPTON, GA - MARCH 05: Brad Keselowski, driver of the #2 Autotrader Ford, celebrates with a burnout after winning the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Folds Of Honor QuikTrip 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway on March 5, 2017 in Hampton, Georgia. (Photo by Jerry Markland/Getty Images)

It was a disappointing day for Kevin Harvick in the Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500. Despite winning stages one and two with leads in excess of four seconds and going on to lead 293 of 325 laps at Atlanta, the victory escaped his grasp, falling into the hands of Brad Keselowski.

Brad Keselowski wins 2017 Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway

The 2017 NASCAR Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway marked the second race of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series. From the very first lap, having started in pole position, it quickly became clear that driver of car no.41 car for Stewart-Haas Racing, Kevin Harvick would be a tough one to beat. Just 20 laps in, the driver had led all the laps and had managed to distance himself from second place driver Ricky Stenhouse Jr by an impressive 2.2 seconds. By the end of stage one, Harvick had led a whopping 82 of 85 laps. The three laps that he hadn’t led were only as a result of making a trip down pit road for a set of fresh tyres.

Stage two looked to be no different, when Harvick – winner of stage one – dominated with a strong lead once again. The nail-biting Atlanta track – renowned for its very slick surface – is currently being debated as to whether a repave should happen. The 1.5 mile track has a big reputation for being particularly “abrasive” and hard on tyres. This makes drivers susceptible to extensive tyre wear and problems, and cars that are a bit of a handful. For fans though, this only makes races more interesting. Regardless of Atlanta’s reputation though, it certainly seemed to pose no problem for Harvick, because by lap 170, he had led more career laps at Atlanta than any other active driver.

Even by stage three after winning the second stage, Harvick caught a very lucky break. With only 68 laps to go, the 2 car of Brad Keselowski managed to beat Harvick off pit road. This would have put Harvick on the outside line for the restart – seen previously as being a consistently slower position to start from throughout the day. However, Keselowski was required to return to pit road prior to the restart due to a lug nut issue; a saving grace for Harvick who returned to the point and back to the consistently quick inside-line for the restart.

It was all downhill from there though. The day saw an influx of drivers being penalised for speeding down pit road. By the end of the race, 13 drivers had been caught speeding and given penalties. The most painful of all – Kevin Harvick. With only 13 laps to go and the victory in sight, it just wasn’t meant to be for the 31 driver.

In an interview with Fox Sports, Harvick said: “I thought I was being conservative, apparently I wasn’t. … I was just pushing too hard.”

Heard apologising profusely to his team over the radio, Harvick was forced to restart from the back of the field. “The good part about it is our Ford has been really fast,” Harvick said. However, Harvick just wasn’t fast enough to regain that pole position and snatch it back from soon-to-be race winner, Brad Keselowski. Despite galloping from the back of the field and making extraordinary progress, Harvick still only ended up finishing just inside the top 10 in ninth place. No doubt it would have been a tough pill to swallow for Harvick, his team, and his fans, given that the win was so close.

Not all was lost for Kevin Harvick though. The new stage racing format meant that he had collected a good amount of points for winning the first two stages, and was at least somewhat rewarded for his astonishing performance. Undoubtedly though, this didn’t ease the disappointment that Harvick felt following the race. “I just feel like I’m snake bitten,” Harvick said. “It’s my own doing today. I really didn’t think I was even close on pit lane.”

The end of the race produced a top ten consisting of: Brad Keselowski, Kyle Larson, Matt Kenseth, Kasey Kahne, Chase Elliott, Joey Logano, Kurt Busch, Martin Truex, Kevin Harvick, and Jamie McMurray.

A strong driver who showed a lot of promise throughout the day had been Kyle Larson of the no. 42 car for Chip Ganassi Racing, who, with 10 laps to go, looked like he might win. Although, much like Harvick – it wasn’t Larson’s day to taste victory either, when Keselowski managed to run him down and pip him to the post just three laps later with only seven left to go. When discussing the move post-race, winner Keselowski admitted “If this track was repaved, I would not have passed Kyle Larson for the winThe groove would’ve been too small, it would’ve been too easy for him to block my air. I would not have been able to make it.”

So, with an open door – Keselowski managed to win the Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500, making this Team Penske’s second win of the 2017 season – the first by Joey Logano in the Advance Auto Parts Clash back in February.

When interviewed about the opportunity, Keselowski commented: “This one kind of fell in our lap at the end and my team put it all together when it counted… 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.”

As for Harvick who was aiming to bring Stewart-Haas Racing their second victory following Kurt Busch’s success last week in the Daytona 500, this is what he he had to say in conclusion: “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.”

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