Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Quiktrip 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway
Keselowski the surprise winner after a dominant Harvick flubs his final pit stop
March 5, 2017: The story of the NASCAR Cup race at Atlanta was one Kevin Harvick’s near complete domination. He wont he pole and was in command throughout the race. Coming off the final caution with just 11 laps left to run, once again he was first of the pits and he looked certain to win the race. Unfortunately for him he had been caught speeding in pit lane and the penalty sent him to the back of the field for the restart. He was so far back that there was no hope that he could redeem himself and win this race.
Meanwhile, Kyle Larson, who had been running close behind for the last 100 laps or so, inherited the lead for the final restart. But Brad Keselowski who had fallen a lap down after he had to pit to fix a loose wheel, had worked himself up into the second row for this final restart. When the green flew, Keselowski charged forward passing Matt Kenseth who was another who fell victim to the difficulty of making a good start from the upper row. Larson held the led for seven laps but Keselowski was too fast for him and he passed him with seven laps to go and he held on to take the checker by a 0.6-second margin over Larson. Meanwhile Harvick had been passing everything in sight but that was only good enough for a ninth place finish – an amazing result in itself.
Before that fateful final caution Harvick had been in almost total command for the entire race. He was scored as winner at the end of the first two “Stages”. The only significant time he gave up the lead was when he made a routine green-flag pit stop on lap 130 of the 325-lap race and Keselowski, who had taken on fresh tires several laps earlier, took the lead for the next 12 laps – but Harvick was soon able to run him down and regain the lead. One hundred and twenty-three laps later, during the fourth caution, Keselowski managed to beat Harvick out of the pits to take the lead for the restart – but before the green flag flew Keselowski’s crew called him back into the pits to tighten a loose wheel and he had to fall to the back of the field, letting Harvick continue his dominance. By the time Harvick was penalized for speeding during that final pit stop sequence, Keselowski had recovered and he was able to take that final restart in third place (right behind Larson in the favoured lower line) and go on to pass Larson for the win. Matt Kenseth finished third ahead of Kasey Kahne and Chase Elliott.
The two support races on Saturday were run in front of a smallish crowd but for Sunday’s race the grandstands – albeit much reduced in size from their former capacity – were pretty well filled to capacity.
The next Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race is next Sunday (March 12), at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
NASCAR Xfinity Series Rinnai 250 at Atlanta Motor Speedway
Kyle Busch wins the race but his car fails in post-race inspection
March 4, 2017: Kyle Busch won a rather uneventful 163-lap/250-mile Xfinity race at Atlanta after starting from the pole in his Joe Gibbs Toyota. He led the first few laps and the final 19 laps to win by a 0.6-second margin over Brad Keselowski in his Penske Ford. Unfortunately for Gibbs and Busch, the car failed inspection after the race for being too low at the front end. Under NASCAR’s new rules, while the win will not be taken away, this failure may have significant implications for their hopes to win an owner’s championship with the No. 18 car.
The other two drivers who did well were Kevin Harvick who led the most laps, 64, in his Stewart-Haas Ford and Kyle Larson in the Ganassi Chevrolet. Larson came to the fore in the second half of the race and he led for 20 laps before losing ground after the final caution. He took the green in second place but it seemed as if the lead car always took the inside spot on the front row because the higher starting position did not work very well and those second place cars always seemed to lose places on the restart. This happened to Larson on that final restart. He dropped from second to fourth but he was able to get back past Elliott Sadler to score a third-place finish.
Harvick seemed to have the dominant car for most of this race but he had been passed by both Larson and Busch by the time the final yellow flew and then lost another place when he pitted and he also lost positions after starting on the high side behind Larson on that final restart, dropping from fourth to sixth before he began to recover. By the end of this last green-flag run he was up to fourth place ahead of Sadler who finished in firth place.
This race was the first of an Xfinity-Trucks double-header run on the Saturday before the feature Cup race here. It would have seemed like this two-for-one deal would have been a crowd-pleaser for the race fans in the Atlanta area but the grandstands that remain here were hardly 20 percent occupied. And this after the track management has removed the big grandstand and suites complex that used to overlook the third turn and all of the grandstand seats that were on the backstretch (the one-time front stretch before the track was reconfigured).
The first two “Stages” ended after 40 laps and 80 laps of the 163-lap race. Keselowski was the winner of the first stage and Harvick won the second.
The next NASCAR Xfinity race is this coming Saturday (March 11), at Las Vegas Motor Speedway
NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Active Pest Control 200 at Atlanta Motor Speedway
Kyle Busch’s protégé Christopher Bell takes a dominant win
March 4, 2017: If it had not been for the cautions, Christopher Bell would have won the Atlanta truck race by a huge margin. As it was, he led for most of the race and he was able to overcome challenges from his mentor and teammate Kyle Busch as well as a final run charge by the veteran Matt Crafton.
It all came down to a final two-lap scramble to the checker with Bell and Crafton lined up side-by-side at the front. Bell edged ahead on the restart but Crafton kept up alongside and, for a moment, it looked like he might be able to get past Bell – but Bell kept his foot down and halfway around the lap he was able to drop down in front of Crafton and then he held on past the white flag and onto the checker, beating Crafton by a margin of less than half a second.
Earlier in the previous green-flag run Bell had built up a four-second lead over his rival. He had started from the pole alongside Busch and, in all, he led 99 of the race’s 130 laps.
In the first half of the race, Bell’s strongest challenger was Busch in the sister truck. Busch beat Bell out of the pits during the fifth caution and he held the lead though the next caution until the seventh caution flew on lap 105. Meanwhile Bell had a bad restart after that fifth caution and he fell back to fifth and he was mired back there through the next yellow-flag cycle a few laps later.
But Busch had trouble during this seventh caution and dropped from first to fifth after the pit stops. After the restart, Busch had a tire problem and hit the outside wall dropping him form contention. Meanwhile Bell had been charging back up towards the front and he regained the lead from Crafton – who had taken over the lead after that seventh caution – and he resumed his dominance of the race.
Johnny Sauter, who had driven so strongly at Daytona the week before, finished in third place ahead of Ben Rhodes and Chase Elliott who was guest driving for the Gallagher team. Bell’s dominance was underscored by the fact that he had won both of the two “Stages” which came at the lap 40 and lap 80 points in the race.
Incidently two drivers who were notable last year have not yet reappeared this year – the first being Ben Kennedy, a scion of the France family and the second Calgary’s Cameron Hayley. However, It looks like Stewart Friesen from Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario, has become a regular in his own one-truck team this year. Friesen only completed one lap at Daytona last week but he finished 20th here at Atlanta this week.
Bell, who is now 22-years-old joined the Kyle Busch team for a partial season in 2015 and he drove full time for KBM last year, finishing third in the championship behind Sauter and Crafton.
The next NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race is on Saturday, April 1 at Martinsville Speedway.
MENCS: Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images/NASCAR
NXS: NASCAR Via Getty Images
NCWTS: NASCAR Via Getty Images