Kevin Harvick and his Stewart-Haas Racing team tried their best to put on a flawless clinic in Sunday’s Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500. The No.4 Jimmy Johns Ford was freaky fast all throughout the race, leading 292 laps of the 325 laps. But unbeknownst to Harvick at the time, his clinic wasn’t going to stay open all day.

The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series rolled into Atlanta Motor Speedway for the second round of the 2017 season. As one of the fastest and roughest tracks on the surface, Atlanta was set to showcase speed and endurance, and that’s exactly what we saw.

Pre-race at Atlanta Motor Speedway. Photo by Christian Espinoza.

Harvick led the field to the green flag for Sunday’s 500-mile event. The Bakersfield, CA native had no problems keeping the rest of the field at bay. Harvick’s No.4 Ford was the class of the field. On every restart Harvick was able to run away with a large lead. He swept the first two stages of the event with ease. While a majority of his competitors were suffering issues, including a large rash of pit road speeding penalties, it became evident that the only person who was going beat Harvick, was Harvick himself.

And that’s exactly what happened.

The caution flag flew with 16 laps to go as Austin Dillon’s car slowed on track. Harvick, who had led about 94% of the race up until that point, only had to make it through one more sequence of pit stops in order to virtually capture the checkered flag. But on that final trip down pit road, the bad-luck snake struck, and Harvick was caught speeding on pit road. The No.4 was sent to the tail end of the field, handing the lead over to fellow CA native, Kyle Larson.

With Harvick back in the pack, the rest of the field were left to battle it out for the win with 11 laps to go. Larson got out front for a couple laps, but Brad Keselowski was able to find some speed and battled the lead away with 7 laps to go. The Rochester Hills, MI native never looked back and crossed the finish line first, his first checkered flag of the 2017 season.

Brad Keselowski celebrating with the American flag after the race. Photo by Zach Darrow.

“Well, you know, wins are always special, but early in the season they’re really good,” said Keselowski after the race. “You just can’t take any wins for granted.  I know I don’t.  I always feel like before a race, you obviously always want to win, and you always wonder yourself when your last win is going to be, and I’m not anywhere near retirement age, but you still think about those things and you think about how tough it just is to win at this level and how lucky you are to have a team to win.  A great winning percentage at this level is one out of every 10 races, and one out of every 10 races, if you can pull that off, you’re a Hall of Famer.  I think that’s just a testament to how tough it is.”

Harvick was able to battle his way back into the top-10 throughout the last few laps, bringing home a decent 9th-place finish. But the Stewart-Haas Racing driver was left wondering what could have been had he been just a little bit more cautious on the last pit stop.

“I really hate it for everybody on this Jimmy Johns Ford,” Harvick disappointingly exclaimed on FOX after the race. “They put a great car under me and we did everything I thought we needed to do. I knew I needed to be close to pit road speed because we were having trouble getting out of the box, but I didn’t think I was pushing it that close. It gets to bouncing there and you can’t really tell where you’re at, and that’s why there are so many speeding penalties here because you have to run it so close. I was too fast.”

Larson, Matt Kenseth, Kasey Kahne, Chase Elliott, Joey Logano, Kurt Busch, Martin Truex Jr., Harvick, and Jamie McMurray rounded out the rest of the top-10 finishers in Sunday’s event.

There ended up being 13 speeding penalties handed out throughout the 500 miles on Sunday. The 2016 Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 only featured one speeding penalty, leaving many puzzled as to why there was such a dramatic increase.

“I think everybody is just trying to get all they can get and for me personally it was just a mistake,” said 8th-place finisher Martin Truex Jr. after the race. “I was too slow coming in and I gave it a little gas to speed up and I just crossed the limit and with the timing lines being so close, it’s real easy to jump over and go too fast at the beginning of the section and not catch it at the end because they’re so short, so just a mistake on my part and I’m sure most of the other guys would say the same – just pushing it and trying to get all they can get.”

Crashes plagued the Daytona 500. Speeding penalties plagued the Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500. What will be the name of the game next weekend in Las Vegas?

Southern California native who has made the trek across country to North Carolina to chase down my dreams and aspirations in the motorsports industry.