In NASCAR racing, the fastest car doesn’t always win. That fact was definitely evidient Saturday night in the NRA American Warrior NASCAR Nationwide Series race at Atlanta Motor Speedway. The No. 33 Richard Childress Chevrolet, driven by Kevin Harvick, was definitely the fastest car throughout most of the race, leading 157 laps of the 195-lap event and at times building up lead margins in excess of 10 seconds between the eight yellow flags that came out throughout the race and bunched up the race field.
Harvick didn’t come out the winner, though. He didn’t even finish second. Instead he wound up behind race winner Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and runner up Brad Keselowski, who was two laps down at one time.
“It’s kind of how the whole year’s gone,” a dejected Harvick said after the race.
Harvick began his domination when he got by Stenhouse for the lead on lap 19, and less than 30 laps later, he had a lead of nearly 13 seconds over second place. The race field then cycled through green flag pit stops. Harvick cycled back to the lead, with pole sitter Kyle Busch in second, 15 seconds back. During that same cycle, Keselowski, along with Kasey Kahne, were caught speeding on pit road twice — once when heading down pit road for service and again serving their pit road speeding penalties. As a result, they both went two laps down.
“All my fault,” Keselowski said. “I was speeding on pit road.”
While Kahne’s race continually went south, as he even spent some time in the garage, Keselowski was able to get back on the lead lap during a caution that came out on lap 120.
During that same lap 120 caution, five cars stayed out for track position while the front runners headed down pit road, resulting in Harvick restarting the race from the sixth position. It didn’t take him long to get back out front and pull away, though. He was back in the lead in less than a lap.
Most of the race field, with the exception of Keselowski and Justin Allgaier, cycled through one last round of green-flag pit stops with about 26 laps to go. Keselowski and Allgaier, though, held out, and the yellow flag flew for the seventh time in the race with 13 laps to go. Keselowski and Allgaier were then able to pit for tires and fuel and restart with fresher tires than those who previously pitted under green.
The yellow flag waved one final time with seven laps to go for a multi-car includent that involved James Buescher, Mike Bliss and Danica Patrick. To keep from running down the remaining laps under caution, NASCAR threw out the red flag for track cleanup.
“I was hoping that 33 wouldn’t start,” Stenhouse said to his crew over the radio when the race went from red back to yellow.
The race restarted with Harvick and Stenhouse up front. Stenhouse was able to stay up beside Harvick on this restart, and on the final lap, was able to take the lead. Keselowski then got by Harvick to take second.
“I knew I had to get everything I could on that restart,” Stenhouse said.
Series points leader Elliott Sadler finished fourth, and Justin Allgaier was fifth.
– Photo courtesy of Getty Images for NASCAR
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