Will Kyle Busch or Kevin Harvick have the last laugh as “truck bounty” kicks off at Atlanta?

The truck bounty makes a cool story and will undoubtedly add excitement to the truck race Saturday afternoon at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

The only potential issue? Things going overboard on the track (someone taking out Kyle Busch) or off the track (NASCAR having to put an end to bounties).

More on that later. But first, the backstory: Kevin Harvick got upset when Kyle Larson tweeted a series of cherry emojis following a Kyle Busch victory three weeks ago at Las Vegas, insinuating that Busch was cherry-picking the field. So Harvick offered $50,000 to any full-time Cup points-earning driver who could go out there and finish ahead of Busch. Camping World CEO Marcus Lemonis, whose company is the series sponsor through its Gander RV & Outdoors brand, pledged another $50,000.

Larson meant nothing derogatory by the tweet, but Harvick had no time for discussion, and a bounty was created.

“I love what Kyle Busch does with his truck teams, and I talked to Kyle Larson about his three cherries – I thought he was kind of picking on [Busch], and I didn’t realize he gets the same treatment when he runs the dirt car,” Harvick said. “We’re going to have fun with it.”

Larson, who often races sprint cars on dirt tracks across the country, texted Harvick after hearing he was the inspiration.

“I just dropped some cherries on there because when I do win dirt races, I do get a lot of that [criticism] as well,” Larson said. “It was more of a dig at the NASCAR fans and dirt fans who give me crap also, but in a different series.

“But I guess it upset Harvick enough that he put a bounty up, which is cool.”

Harvick had no idea his idea would create such buzz or actually encourage drivers to actually go race. Chase Elliott (GMS Racing), John Hunter Nemechek (Nemco Motorsports) and Brennan Poole (On Point Motorsports) will attempt to win the bounty this weekend at Atlanta.

If none of them win it, Larson (GMS Racing), Erik Jones (Wauters Motorsports) and Poole will try next week at Homestead. Expect at least Nemechek and Poole at Texas and Elliott and Poole at Kansas later in the year, the other two races Busch expects to run.

The weird thing is that Harvick’s bounty only requires a driver to finish ahead of Busch, not win the race. Harvick said what matters is that people are talking about the series and some sponsors that haven’t been involved in the series are now getting involved.

“I just wanted to see somebody race with Kyle,” Harvick said. “As a sport and the truck series, we’ve all won so big with this whole thing, it doesn’t really matter what happens at this point other than hopefully good competition.”

To not leave the truck regulars out, Chris Larsen of Halmar International (sponsor and co-owner for Stewart Friesen) put up $50,000 to any truck series regular who wins the race (and $25,000 to the Kyle Busch Foundation if Busch wins). That might help soothe some of the frustration from truck teams that this type of bounty gimmick is needed to increase eyes on the series.

NASCAR officials know they are letting what could be a can of worms open with the bounty. It’s generated incredible interest, but NASCAR has to have control of its events and awards. Its sanction agreements with tracks forbid track promoters from offering bonuses or bounties for specific results at any Cup event without NASCAR approval. The sanction agreement also includes a clause that requires the track to help NASCAR to try to enjoin a third-party award.

NASCAR also has to watch and make sure that any sort of third-party award can’t be considered a wager.

With all that in mind, NASCAR isn’t trying to stop this bounty, which is a good thing.

Busch, who has won the last seven races he’s entered in the series, could very well stop it by winning the races. The rules limiting Cup drivers with more than three years Cup experience to five races in the developmental series is pretty much a rule to keep Busch from running more races. His dominance has triggered criticism on social media.

At first, he wasn’t thrilled about it because he figured someone will just wreck him in hopes of earning the money (Harvick has vowed not to pay it out if it does happen). The bounty idea seems to be growing on Busch. A little.

“It’s going to be interesting, exciting, whatever you want to term it,” Busch said. “I guess Cup drivers in Truck Series do sell tickets so take that for what it’s worth.

“It’s a unique opportunity for more attention on the series, which is good. Maybe if more drivers had more teams then had rides then there would be something else there than just myself.”

Harvick, Busch and Brad Keselowski are Cup drivers who have owned truck teams. Only Busch still does, as running a race team can be a wallet-draining experience.

“I can see that he has put millions of dollars in it, probably tens of millions of dollars in it,” Keselowski said. “With respect to that, I think there are some people that want to downplay the success that he has had and maybe not give him credit for the investment he has made but I am not in that camp.

“It is interesting because I think he probably gets more credit than he deserves as a driver and less credit than he deserves as an owner, which is a bit peculiar. I think this might be what he needs to get more credit as an owner.”

So how about a prediction for the bounty? Busch is thinking Homestead.

“The guy that really has a shot is Larson at Homestead,” Busch said. “Bring it on.”

Xfinity: Jeffrey Earnhardt returns to JD Motorsports

Jeffrey Earnhardt makes his return to the series this weekend and his return to JD Motorsports. The son of Kerry Earnhardt (Dale Earnhardt Sr.’s oldest child), the 30-year-old Jeffrey Earnhardt drove for JD Motorsports in 2014.

He spent three years in the NASCAR Cup Series driving for Go Fas Racing, CircleSport Racing and StarCom Racing. He did seven Xfinity races last year with Joe Gibbs Racing, including a third-place finish in May at Charlotte.

He has a 12-race schedule with JD Motorsports this year.

Trucks: Ryan Truex to Niece Motorsports

Following the Earnhardt theme of a driver returning to the series, Ryan Truex is back in the trucks, the series where he finished ninth in the standings in 2017. Truex has six races with Niece Motorsports.

He drove for Kaulig Racing in the Xfinity Series in 2018 and then six races for JR Motorsports last year.

Stat of Note

Heading to the 1.5-mile Atlanta Motor Speedway, seven different drivers have won the last seven races on 1.5-mile tracks since Chicagoland last July: Alex Bowman (Chicagoland), Kurt Busch (Kentucky), Martin Truex Jr. (Las Vegas), Denny Hamlin (Kansas), Kevin Harvick (Texas), Kyle Busch (Homestead) and Joey Logano (Las Vegas).

Viewer’s Guide

Friday

Xfinity Series (NXS) practice, 2:35-3:25 p.m. ET, FS1

Cup Series (NCS) practice, 3:35-4:25 p.m. ET, FS1

Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series (NGROTS) practice, 4:32-4:57 p.m. ET, FS1

NXS practice, 5:02-5:27 p.m. ET, FS1

NCS practice, 5:35-6:25 p.m. ET, FS1

Saturday

NGROTS qualifying, 10:05 a.m. ET, FS1

NXS qualifying, 11:05 a.m. ET, FS1

NCS qualifying, 12:05 p.m. ET, FS1

NGROTS race, 1:30 p.m. ET, FS1

NXS race, 4:00 p.m. ET, FS1

Sunday

NCS race, 2:00 p.m. ET, FOX

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What They Said

“I’m not dialing out, but if somebody dials in, I still will listen for sure.”

— Brad Keselowski on whether he would test the waters of free agency.