By Sterling Siemens
Fighting stomach flu for most of the weekend, Brad Keselowski overcame overheating concerns and held off a hard-charging Martin Truex Jr. to take the victory in the Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway on Sunday.
The win was his 2nd Atlanta victory (he won the same race in Feb. 2017), and the 28th of his career. Keselowski’s win also marked the first win for the Ford Mustang model in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series.
“We ran over a piece of debris with…50 laps to go and overheated really bad,” Keselowski told Access WDUN. “And I thought there was no way this engine would make it to the end. But (engine builder) Doug Yates and his team, they do a great job.”
Sunday afternoon was notable for being the first test of the new aerodynamic package with less horsepower that NASCAR will run at most intermediate tracks. The lone exception for Atlanta? Teams ran car packages brake ducts instead of the aerodynamic ducts that will be used beginning this weekend at Las Vegas.
With all of the unpredictability going into last weekend, fans were treated to a classic Atlanta race. For the first few laps after restarts, cars raced side-by-side, three and four-wide, providing fantastic racing action, while the leader would begin pulling out to a big lead until a caution came out.
Truex Jr. closed the gap to Keselowski in the final few laps, but he got caught behind the lapped car of Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and eventually ran out of laps to pass the No. 2. Needless to say, Truex wasn’t too pleased with Stenhouse after the race.
“It was just lapped cars,” Truex told Yahoo.com when asked what kept him from catching Keselowski. “The No. 17 (Stenhouse) rode there in front of us forever and ever running the bottom (line), and I kept telling him I needed the bottom….These cars are just so bad in dirty air that he was holding me up really bad.”
2004 series champion Kurt Busch finished 3rd in his second race for Chip Ganassi Racing, capping off an excellent day in which he ran in the top-five almost the entire race. Meanwhile, defending race winner Kevin Harvick led 45 laps and won the second stage, winding up in 4th.
The rest of the top 10 was filled out by Clint Bowyer, Kyle Busch, Erik Jones, Aric Almirola, Chris Buescher, and Daniel Suarez.
Daytona 500 winner Denny Hamlin had a subpar afternoon, running in the top 15 for most of the race, bringing car No. 11 home in 11th place.
While there wasn’t a clear-cut favorite during the race, Ganassi’s Kyle Larson led the most laps at 142, and ran up front for most of the afternoon. However, a late pit road speeding penalty relegated Larson back to a 12th place finish.
JTG Daugherty Racing showed some great speed during the race, with their two drivers, Chris Buescher and Ryan Preece, running in the top ten late in the race.
While Buescher finished 9th, Preece’s promising day was unfortunately cut short by an unusual accident on pit road with the lapped car of B.J. McLeod, crushing the radiator on Preece’s No. 47, and taking him out of the race.
One team that was notably absent from contention was Hendrick Motorsports. All four of their drivers (Jimmie Johnson in particular) struggled to stay inside the top 15, with Alex Bowman carrying the day for HMS, finishing 15th. As for the 7-time champion Jimmie Johnson, he finished 24th, 2 laps down.
NASCAR now heads out west to the Sin City, Las Vegas, for the debut of the “full” aerodynamic package this weekend, as they kick off their annual “West Coast Swing” in Nevada and California.
Edited by Garrett Jones | firstname.lastname@example.org