On a Saturday night in which the low line was the way around and the majority of the field battled ill-handling cars, there were no issues for JR Motorsports’ Kevin Harvick.
In one of the most dominant performances in recent memory, Harvick led 159 of the 195 laps to score his third Nationwide Series win at Atlanta Motor Speedway, and his third of the year.
Fellow JR Motorsports driver Chase Elliott lead the opening 36 laps of Saturday night’s race, but as he battled with the handling of the car Harvick’s No. 5 Chevrolet came to life. Working the bottom of the track better than most, Harvick was able to take the race lead on Lap 37.
From there on out, Harvick would dominate the rest of the field, holding on to the top spot for the remainder of the race. This also marked the fourth time in the last six Atlanta Nationwide Series race in which Harvick led the most laps.
"This thing was bad fast from the drop of the green flag," Harvick said in Victory Lane. "It’s just one of those race tracks where I like the challenge of everything that you get to do here. Ernie (Cope, crew chief) have found a great set up over the years from back in the trucks, and it’s still working today."
The biggest challenge for Harvick came from fellow Sprint Cup Series driver Joey Logano in the Team Penske No. 22 Ford. Despite having a strong car, Logano was never able to get to the back bumper of Harvick to put forth a challenge for the lead.
Harvick and Logano both hit pit road for the final time of the night with 17 laps to go in the race for four tires and fuel. Logano’s team was able to close the gap to Harvick with less than 15 laps to go, but it was not enough.
"The first three-quarters of the race, he was pretty much better everywhere," Logano said of Harvick. "Especially in the long run. It seemed like I could hang for a little bit on the short run, but then he would take off and leave us."
Kyle Larson, Kyle Busch, pole-sitter Chase Elliott, Regan Smith, Brian Scott, David Ragan, Ty Dillon and Elliott Sadler rounded out the top 10, with only nine cars finishing the night on the lead lap.
Running in second and third for much of the race, Elliott finished the night fifth in his first trip to his home track. The rookie driver was critical of himself for making a mistake on the last pit stop of the night when he overshot his stall.
Getting up on the wheel, Elliott was able to move around teammate and championship contender Regan Smith to take the fifth spot. By doing so, Elliott was able to extend his points lead over his teammate to 15 points, while holding a 35-point lead over Ty Dillon in third.
"I just made a mistake,"s aid Elliott. "Absolutely unacceptable and I can’t do that. It was disappointing. I’m frustrated with myself on that one, because my guys deserve to finish second tonight and I didn’t get the job done for them. I just got in there a little to hot and messed up.
"It’s just completely unacceptable. I apologize to my guys, and congrats to Kevin, he pretty much had us covered here tonight."
The first caution of the night flew on Lap 72 for debris on the track with Harvick setting a blistering pace. With rain thought to be approaching, the field headed to pit road for the second time of the night.
Debris brought out the second caution of the night on Lap 119, bringing the field back to the bumper of Harvick’s dominant No. 5 Chevrolet. Under caution, rain hit the 1.54-mile Atlanta Motor Speedway. While it was not enough to bring out the red flag, the weather led to a lengthy caution period as NASCAR assessed the track conditions.
Next weekend the NASCAR Nationwide Series is back under the lights, this time at the short track of Richmond International Raceway.