On Sunday, fans were treated to 500 miles of almost uninterrupted racing at Atlanta Motor Speedway for the Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500, the second race of the 2017 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series. From the moment the green flag dropped, it was clear that Kevin Harvick and the No. 4 team was set to have a great day. Harvick quickly found that the low line was the place to be, and he spent lap after lap hugging the bottom of the track and pulling away from the field. While the notorious and famous Atlanta track ate away at tires, the field managed to avoid any major wrecks. After two stages and some flawless pit stops, it looked like Harvick was a sure bet for the win.
The track helped Harvick pull away, because it was almost impossible for the field to form up and catch him. The top half of the race track seemed to be the kiss of death all day long, and anyone caught up high—especially through the final corners—lost the back end and all their momentum. A few drivers tested the high line, including Harvick at one point, but it was clear that the only way to gain ground was to hold on tight to the bottom of the track.
The rough nature of the track means that there were many pit stops, and the many pit stops meant many opportunities for mistakes. In fact, there were 10 pit lane speeding infractions, including two for both Jimmie Johnson and Matt Kenseth. After their poor Daytona 500, the 48 team needs a good showing in Las Vegas to turn around a pretty dismal start to the season.
The Pit Lane claimed many victims on Sunday, but one was more important than all the rest. Under caution with only 13 laps to go, Harvick was given a penalty for speeding in the pit lane, taking him from the lead and putting him back all the way to 35th position for the restart.
With Larson and Keselowski now vying for the win, the race restarted with only 12 to go. Harvick fought his way through the pack at a tremendous pace, but it simply wasn’t enough. After Larson mysteriously shot up to the outside of the track, letting Keselowski through, the No 2 Penske man took the checkered flag.
However, one thing is important to point out. With the new points system, Harvick was rewarded for a dominant day. His two stage wins gained him a total of 48 points—20 more than he would’ve gotten under the old system. So as we head to Vegas, then, Harvick is the overall points leader, with 90 points. Kurt Busch is second with 86, Keselowski third with 84, Chase Elliott has 82, and Joey Logano rounds out the top five at 80 points.