OK, so not every race has to be yet another “Fast & Furious” remake – this most tame day featuring 301 of 325 laps run under green, there being only a couple minor spinouts interrupting a lovely Sunday drive.
Such comfort does Harvick find here that it confuses his origin story. He is, for the record, from California. Yet, when second-place finisher Kyle Busch described his challenge in chasing Harvick on Sunday, he said, “It’s hard to beat him when he’s on his ‘home’ turf.” Busch finished more than three seconds behind Harvick, which at these speeds is a yawning gap.
Martin Truex was in the lead at the first two stages, but didn’t win the most important one, the last. Truex came in a distant third.Ryan Blaney was fourth and Denny Hamlin fifth.
Although you couldn’t tell it, Harvick said, “It was a battle today.”
“The car didn’t really handle like we wanted it to most of the day. They made some great adjustments at the end of the race, and we were able to get the car right when it counted there at the end.”
The start of this race held a whole different level of meaning and significance than anything that occurred after the drop of the green flag.
First, it was left to Jimmie Johnson to bellow out the command of “Start your engines!” to the field before starting what is believed to be his final ride at Atlanta Motor Speedway. The seven-time Cup champion, who was honored here this week by having a grandstand named after him, has announced he will retire at season’s end.
Second, mindful of the fact this is also first major sporting event in the nation since the death of George Floyd the protests it ignited, NASCAR was compelled to comment.
One lap from going green, the field came to a stop at the AMS frontstretch. Each race crew lined up atop the pit wall, one crew member for Bubba Wallace, the only African American driver in the field, holding out the Black Lives Matter T-shirt that Wallace was wearing pre-race.
During the pause, NASCAR President Steve Phelps spoke, saying in part: “Our country must do better. The time is now to listen, to understand and to stand against racism and racial injustice. We ask our drivers ... and all our fans to join us in this mission, to take a moment of reflection, to acknowledge that we must do better as a sport.” Following was a video presentation featuring a tapestry of drivers condemning racial injustice.
Wallace, who as the only African American driver on this circuit has had a draining and emotional week, appeared to faint at the end of a very hot race. He was taken to the speedway’s infield care center where he was treated and released, according to NASCAR. Fellow driver Josh Bilicki also required aid after the race.
Once the racing began, it was pole-sitter Chase Elliott setting the early pace. The first 26 laps he led represented the first Cup Series laps he has ever led on his home-state track in five races here. But he could never quite recapture the speed of the beginning and came in eighth. No siren would sound up the road at the Dawsonville Pool Room this night, so sleep tight residents.
This race would shake out into another Kevin Harvick testimonial. He has been a big headliner since racing was restarted, also winning the first race back at Darlington.
Put Harvick in the lead in Atlanta, and it’s almost unfair from there. It’s like some guy named Slim getting dealt three aces. There is little else for the rest of the poor lads to do but eat Harvick’s exhaust.
He led for 151 of the 325 laps run Sunday, including the final 55. That pushed his total of laps led in Atlanta over his past seven races to 1,111, or more than 1,700 miles of lead. This was where Harvick won his first NASCAR Cup race in 2001, three weeks after taking over for Dale Earnhardt who had died at Daytona. Hence the No. 3 salute for each victory here - he also won in 2018 - that being Earnhardt’s number.
“For me, this place is pretty special just because of the fact this is where I got my first win,” said Harvick, who with his 51st career win Sunday moved into 12th place on NASCAR’s all-time list. “For me coming back here it brings back a lot of memories. We really didn’t know how to celebrate that particular day (back in 2001), and as you look at being able to go back and win another race here and celebrate the life of Dale Earnhardt and everything he meant to the sport the right way is obviously pretty special.”
More celebrations - perhaps next time with fans - are likely when the 44-year-old Harvick no doubt wins his last race here as well.