Just hours after suffering a setback in his Sprint Cup car with a blown engine, Kevin Harvick bounced back to dominate the NASCAR Xfinity Series race at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
Saturday afternoon's Hisense 250 saw Harvick pick up his third consecutive series win at the venue and set an new all-time wins record of four victories, breaking a tie he had previously held with Mark Martin. It's Harvick's 45th victory in 317 starts in NASCAR's second-tier championship, previously known as the Nationwide Series.
Full race results from Atlanta.
Harvick led for a total of 101 of the 163 laps of the the 1.54-mile quad-oval track, with only fellow Cup regular Joey Logano presenting any serious competition during the brisk one hour 40 minute race.
Daytona 500 winner Logano had continued his fine recent run of form by adding the Xfinity pole earlier in the day to the Cup equivalent that he'd picked up on Friday evening. A lap of 30.104s (184.162mph) had put him almost two tenths clear of Brian Scott and given him his 27th pole in 136 series starts.
Logano went on to lead for the first 49 laps which included a brief yellow for a spin by Jeffrey Earnhardt in turn 4 on lap 9. Matt Kenseth then took the lead for three laps during a round of green flag pit stop around lap 50, but after that Harvick took comprehensive charge of proceedings which included a four-lap debris caution on lap 87.
Logano took the lead just before the final round of pit stops, which were interrupted by the third and final caution of the afternoon for fluid on the backstretch on lap 135. Harvick beat Logano in the race off pit road to lead at the restart, and with the help of a little nudge from reigning series champion and fellow JR Motorsports driver Chase Elliott he was then able to power away from the field.
"That pit stop is what won this race," Harvick said. "Joey probably had a better car the second half of the run. It really played out for us there at the end, as we were able to have that short run and take off."
"We came down pit road and lost a spot and then you're starting on the outside," Logano said, recalling the final restart. "The outside here has no grip up there. I actually was able to get a decent restart and be able to still be door to door with Kevin and I thought, 'We're OK here, I've got a shot- if I can be door to door with him I've got a shot.'
"But then the #9 just gave him a shove and shoved him way up in front of me and that was kind of the end of that," the Penske driver continued. "I was trying different lanes and trying anything I could do to catch up to him.
Harvick eventually won by 1.207s from Logano, whose attempts to get back on equal footing with Harvick were hit by a late vibration on the #22 from a loose left rear wheel.
"I started to make some ground, but then I had this huge vibration and at that point you're just trying to not have to pit again to fix it," said Logano. "When it's in the back of the car you definitely lose a lot of rear grip, but you keep your foot in it trying anything. Once it got really bad I couldn't keep up with Kevin any more.
"We just came up a little bit short," he admitted. "It seems like I finish second in this race all the time. I want to win it really bad. I want to win at this race track and I'm gonna keep trying to run this Xfinity race until I get it!"
Logano was at least able to hold off Richard Childress Racing's Ty Dillon for second spot, while Chris Buescher crossed the line in fourth place in the Roush Fenway Racing #60 just ahead of Chase Elliott who got loose in traffic with 23 laps remaining.
“I don't know what it looked like, but I felt like I was about to wreck,” Elliott said. “So I guess it could have been a lot worse, but I hated to lose spots there. I felt like those were very, very valuable.
“Overall, I felt like there were a lot of positives. The pits stops were really good. I think the changes on the car, they made a difference throughout the day. I just didn't fulfil my part there at the end to try to put ourselves in position to give Kevin a run. He would have been tough to beat, but we'll try again next week.”
Paul Menard, Brian Scott, Matt Kenseth, Regan Smith and Kyle Larson were the only other cars to finish on the lead lap, after the extended periods of green flag running saw a lot of cars lapped. With only three cautions all afternoon there were few chances for those who did go a lap down to recover through picking up a free pass; Darrell Wallace Jr. was the first car a lap down, making him the highest-placed rookie with an 11th place finish ahead of Brendan Gaughan, Erik Jones and Daniel Suarez.
As neither Harvick nor Logano are eligible for championship points in the Xfinity Series, it's Ty Dillon and Chris Buescher who get the biggest boost from Atlanta and who move into a shared lead in the points standings, eight ahead of Ryan Reed who won last week at Daytona but who had to settle for 16th place this weekend at Atlanta.
Full race results, plus qualifying and practice speeds and full Xfinity Series championship standings.
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