HAMPTON, Ga. — Kevin Harvick got his Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 off to the exact same start he did one year ago, winning the opening stage on Sunday at Atlanta Motor Speedway in dominating fashion.
Harvick took the lead on lap 21 and paced 64 of the final 65 laps in the stage for his third-straight Atlanta stage win, the seventh of his Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series career and first since Texas last fall.
The 2014 Cup champion has led the most laps in the last four Atlanta Cup races, but has not scored a win in that time span.
After morning rains drenched the 1.5-mile quad-oval, the start of the race was delayed two and a half hours, but racing finally kicked off just after 3:30 p.m. local time.
Though Kyle Busch led the field to green from the pole, it was Ryan Newman who charged the outside lane through the first two corners to take the early advantage, opening up three-quarters of a second over the field in just two laps.
However, the early story was defending Cup champion Martin Truex Jr., who had to start out back after inspection issues on Friday kept him from qualifying but was halfway through the field by lap seven and inside the top 10 at the 15th round.
Newman’s early hot start ended on lap 18, when Busch soared around his outside in the double-dogleg, but that reign ended just three laps later when Kevin Harvick powered to Busch’s inside to assume command in his own right.
Harvick then left to a gap of more than three seconds before the competition caution flew at lap 30, after early morning rains washed all the rubber off the racing surface, but retained the lead off pit road and easily cleared Busch on the ensuing restart as the latter spun his tires and free-fell backwards.
Meanwhile, Truex continued his meteoric rise through the field, launching from fifth to third in just two laps after the restart and then clearing Newman for the runner-up spot on the 42nd round as he gave chase to Harvick.
By that point, however, Harvick was long-gone with a second and a half lead, increasing that to 6.770 seconds by the time the green-checkered flag waved over the field.
Clint Bowyer passed a fading Truex with 11 laps to go before the stage break to claim second, with defending race winner Brad Keselowski crossing the line third ahead of Truex and Aric Almirola.
Kyle Busch, Kyle Larson, Kurt Busch, Denny Hamlin and Joey Logano completed the top 10 and all scored bonus points at the first stage break of the day.
Speedy service got Keselowski to the race lead after pit stops, with Bowyer coming out second and Harvick falling to sixth after a problem with the air gun during the round of service delayed Harvick’s exit.
Harvick ended up coming down pit road a second time and restarted 19th.
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Jacob Seelman is the Managing Editor of Race Chaser Online and creator of the Motorsports Madness radio show, airing at 7 p.m. Eastern every Monday on the Performance Motorsports Network.
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