Ricky Stenhouse Jr. hardly felt guilty after sneaking away with his fourth Nationwide victory of the year.
”Heck, yeah, we stole it,” he said. ”We’ve had a few stolen from us, so you go out and get as many as you can.”
Stenhouse used a late push from runner-up Brad Keselowski to pass Kevin Harvick and win at Atlanta Motor Speedway on Saturday night.
After a restart with three laps to go, Harvick lost the lead on the final lap as his car got loose coming out of Turn 2 and, Stenhouse, who was bumped by Keselowski on the front straightaway, went ahead for good in Turn 3.
”It was good, hard, clean racing, and I’m glad that we could put on a show for fans because it really wasn’t a show up until that point,” Stenhouse said. ”It was a great night and fun racing with Kevin there.”
Stenhouse, the defending series champion, moved within 12 points of leader Elliott Sadler.
Keselowski got into a heated argument after the race with Harvick, who accused him of throwing a water bottle out of his car to cause an earlier caution flag.
Harvick, who led 157 of the 195 laps, failed to win a Nationwide race for the eighth time when leading the most laps.
”The run was really good, but obviously it wasn’t what NASCAR wanted so we kept throwing cautions for things,” Harvick said. ”The car that caused the caution pushed the car that won the race by us and we weren’t able to get by him, but what can you do?”
As he and Keselowski sat side by side speaking with reporters after the race, neither driver backed down from his stance.
Harvick blamed Keselowski for tossing the water bottle and causing a caution that led the field catch up.
”It’s pretty obvious,” Harvick said. ”He told me after the race that he’d never thrown a water bottle out, and you know what that means. He told me it was intentional. It is what is,” Harvick added before turning to Keselowski and muttering, `So, sleep good.’ "
Keselowski stared straight ahead as Harvick spoke, and he later was absolved when the only infraction NASCAR charged him with was for speeding as he entered the pits on lap 51.
”If that water bottle would’ve been the cause for the yellow, it went out of my car 15 or 20 laps before the yellow came out,” Keselowski said. ”I don’t know specifically what lap it was. I guess that’s why I was caught off guard that the water bottle caused it. I don’t know why the yellows come out. The yellows come out all the time in the race without an explanation.”
Sadler finished fourth, followed by Justin Allgaier, Austin Dillion, pole winner Kyle Busch, Cole Whitt, Sam Hornish Jr. and Michael Annett.
Danica Patrick, making her first Nationwide start in Atlanta, finished 13th.
After a red flag came out following a wreck that took out James Buescher, Mike Bliss and Kyle Fowler, there were 20 cars sidelined from the 43-car field.
Stenhouse said before the race that he was surprised that his Ford didn’t win the pole, but after the race he credited crew chief Mike Kelley with continuing to tighten the car on pit stops and giving him enough power to beat Harvick’s No. 33 Chevrolet on the final restart.
”I’ve been doing this for 25 years, and many times at the end of the race you’re frustrated, the driver is frustrated and the team is frustrated because you don’t get the best adjustment,” said Jack Rousch, owner of Stenhouse’s No. 6 Mustang. ”And all night tonight, for the three stops we had, Mike Kelley dictated great changes, as good a changes as I’ve seen in 25 years.”
Busch, the Nationwide career leader with 51 victories, has had a frustrating weekend after finishing second in the Truck race Friday night. He’s winless in the Nationwide series this year, but won a pole for the first time in his own Kyle Busch Motorsports No. 54 Toyota.
Hornish, in third place, dropped 32 points behind Sadler in the series race. Dillon is fourth, 37 points out.