By Rick Minter
For the AJC
Kevin Harvick took the lead from his teammate, rookie polesitter Chase Elliott, after 36 laps and never looked back as he scored a runaway victory in Saturday’s 23rd Great Clips 300 Nationwide Series race at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
It was Harvick’s second consecutive victory in Nationwide Series racing at AMS, his third victory of the season and the 43rd of his career.
“This thing was bad fast from the drop of the green flag,” Harvick said, adding that he and crew chief Ernie Cope found success at AMS once again. “Ernie and I found a great set-up since back in the truck racing days, and it still works.”
Dale Earnhardt Jr., who co-owns the JR Motorsports team that fields the Chevrolets driven by Elliott, Harvick and Regan Smith, said Harvick not only brings great driving talent to the team but also has helped the company improve its cars and equipment.
“He raises the whole company,” Earnhardt said. “That’s pretty unique among drivers.”
Elliott, the son of former Sprint Cup champion Bill Elliott, was racing on Atlanta’s 1.54-mile quad-oval for the first time ever. In front of a hometown crowd, the Dawsonville native won the pole with a lap at 180.140 mph, his first in the series. But after leading the opening laps he ceded the lead to Harvick, who then led the remaining 159 laps.
The race was slowed just twice, both times for debris on the track. A light rain began falling during the second caution period that began at Lap 121 and kept the field running under the yellow flag for 11 laps.
The leaders all made pit stops in the final 26 laps, but the only position affected significantly was Elliott’s. He was running third when the final pit stop cycle began, but he slid through his pit area and dropped to sixth with less than 20 laps remaining. He regained one spot, passing Regan Smith to take the fifth position and extend his points lead from 13 to 15 over Smith with nine races left to run.
“I made an unacceptable mistake at the end and cost myself a couple of positions,” Elliott said. “My guys deserve better than that. I can’t be doing that. Hopefully I can correct that before next week.”
Double-dipping Sprint Cup drivers took the top four spots, with Joey Logano, Kyle Larson and Kyle Busch joining Harvick at the top of the finishing order.
Busch, who normally is a contender for victory nearly every time he enters a Nationwide race, never was a factor. “It was a crazy race,” he said. “I didn’t expect that.”
Unadilla’s David Ragan, another Cup driver running both races at AMS, finished eighth in a race that saw only nine drivers on the lead lap at the finish.
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