After the excitement everyone witnessed at Daytona, everyone was riding high. The biggest news coming into Atlanta though was not what happen last week but what the new rules package would do to the racing on the twenty one year old surface. Fans and analyst alike were waiting on edge to complain or compliment the product they were going to see.
The race was lead to green by Aric Almirola and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. Almirola would go onto take the lead but for how long? Kevin Harvick started eighteenth and had already passed ten cars in only eight laps. I mean, in all honesty, was anyone surprised this? It is his track. Pit road was getting ready to shake the field up more than drivers and teams knew.
Kyle Larson stole the lead coming off pit road because his crew was able to be just a bit more efficient than leader Aric Almirola. That would be the last time the lead would exchange hands, Kyle went onto lead until the end of the stage. Kevin Harvick near the end of the stage though was appearing to get back into form, clocking faster lap times than Larson the last five or so laps of stage one. Stage one was just the beginning of action that was about to occur.
The lead would once again change hands on pit road but not due to driver or team abilities. Kyle Larson’s crew had a malfunctioning lug gun, allowing Kevin Harvick to take the lead. Larson’s struggles weren’t the only team to be handicapped. Joey Logano was boxed in by Alex Bowman due to shallow pitting from Bowman, causing Logano to loose almost ten spots on pit road. After all the pit road problems, the restart was nothing less than exciting.
This restart was the perfect example of the way this new rules package allowed for a run to develop. The “master” of Atlanta, Kevin Harvick, took advantage of the restart and in fifteen laps had a one second lead. Around lap twenty seven, Harvick went into turns three and four and hit the bump, causing him to get loose and allowing Larson to take back the lead.
Larson and Harvick would go onto battle for the lead, for a few laps. Some contact between leaders led to some radio traffic from the 42 team saying “We are just lucky he (Harvick) allows us to race here.” Kyle Larson would hold the lead until around nine to go in the stage when get got loose and allowed Harvick to blow by him. Harvick would go onto get his first stage win of 2019, and had some wondering was he about to go on a run.
After every other restart this race, I was kind of on my feet waiting to see if they would take it three or four wide. Kyle Larson being the only car all weekend able to make restarts on the outside worked well as he took the lead to begin the stage. Larson held the lead until around 105 laps to go in the race, when Kyle Busch had a right rear tire go down, which caused the first non stage caution of the day.mKevin Harvick got the lead back after Larson was caught speeding on pit road. Kyle posted on twitter after the race;
“Made a stupid mistake on pit road that costed us a better finish today. Great car up till then. Lost all handling in all the dirty air.”
Harvick would not be able to keep the lead long however. He was complaining a lot about a tight race car allowing Ryan Blaney to take the lead. With around 56 laps to go in the race, Clint Bowyer came down pit road to start the green flag cycle of stops. Little did we all know, those wouldn’t last long. Rookie Ryan Preece would collide with Bj McLeod on pit road and end his day. Pit road mistakes seemed to be the theme of the day for leaders. Ryan Blaney would wind up backing his car off the jack and breaking the jack, giving the lead to his teammate Joey Logano.
The race would end on a somewhat confusing restart after that caution though. Leaders Logano and Kurt Busch would bring the field back to green on the final restart, with the two car behind them in third. Then you had four or so lapped cars between fourth place. The explanation from what I understood is as followed: The lapped cars pitted legally under the green flag, while everyone from 4th on back had to take the “wave around” therefor putting them behind the lapped cars for the restart.
The lapped cars allowed Keselowski to take the lead from Logano and open up a two plus second lead. This is the part were I tell you he went onto drag the field to the checkers right? Well you would be wrong after seeing his teammates both have tire issues Brad backed his pace down. With two to go Martin Truex Jr. was able to catch Brad and provided us a race for the win. Unfortunately for Truex he was unable to catch the lead dog and Brad Keselowski would take home the checkers! With the win at Atlanta Brad Keselowski also became the winningest driver in Penske Motorsports history.
The “partial” introduction of the new rules package at Atlanta was a some what interesting debut. I as a fan at home enjoyed what I was seeing on the track. The cars were able to develop runs quick and it made for a lot of passing. Over all, I felt like the race was a step up from previous years. Kyle Larson led over one hundred laps but even then he was fighting on and off with Harvick.
We shall see what the full debut of the rules package does next week at Las Vegas. Will it be another case of “What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas” or will fans be even more excited for the year to come. Anyways once again I’m signing off, and will touch base next week guys!