Keselowski Holds Off Truex For 5th Closest Finish In Atlanta History, Main Takeaways From SundayR
HAMPTON, GA – Brad Keselowski had his flu game. Michael Jordan had one in the 1998 NBA Finals. Keselowski, gets his in the second race of the 2019 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season.
On Saturday, Keselowski missed most of final practice due to flu like symptoms. Austin Cindric filled in for a majority of the session. Keselowski, received two IV’s and extra rest before hopping into his No. 2 Ford for Sunday’s Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 at the Atlanta Motor Speedway.
Despite coming from the 19th starting spot, Keselowski quickly moved forward. He passed his Team Penske teammate of Joey Logano with 34 laps-to-go and never looked back en route to his second win in the last three years on the 1.54-mile Georgia race track and 28th of his Cup career.
Also, the win breaks a tie with Mark Donahue for most wins ever with Penske as the Michigan native has combined to reach victory lane 60 times for the Captain.
Keselowski, held off a furious charge from Martin Truex Jr. in the end to beat him by just 0.218-seconds. It was the fifth closest finish ever in Atlanta.
Keselowski, now has five straight top nine finishes on the track including three consecutive top twos. He led 21 laps in his 2016 win and 33 on Sunday.
Truex, earned his fifth straight top eight finish in Atlanta with his runner-up in Sunday’s 325 lap race. Since 2012, he has seven top eight finishes including his second place finish in his No. 19 Toyota. He cut a 2+ second deficit to under a second in the closing laps but was a lap or two too short of passing Keselowski for the win.
Kurt Busch finished third in his No. 1 Chevrolet while Stewart-Haas Racing teammates of Kevin Harvick and Clint Bowyer rounded out the top five.
Here are the top takeaways from a wild Sunday race.
Top 4 Finishers Best 4 In Atlanta Lately
It didn’t take the new package to change the results. Yes, we had a brand new racing package for Sunday’s race, but the finishing order had a familiar look.
The top four in Sunday’s final results are arguably the top four drivers recently in Atlanta.
Keselowski, despite being under the weather, earned his third straight top two result.
Truex, has five straight top eight finishes and seven in his last eight tries.
Kurt Busch has four straight top eight finishes and eight in his last 10 Atlanta starts.
Harvick, has five straight top 10’s and eight in his last nine tries. No, he didn’t dominate like in the past but he still finished in the top five.
When the dust settled, these were the top finishers.
End Of Race Tire Problems Cost Penske Having All 3 Cars In The Top 5
If practice showed anything, it was that Penske was hiding some speed. They were flat out in qualifying but only started 19-26-27. In the closing stages of the race, they had all three cars in the top four.
In fact, if not for an end of the race disaster in terms of bad luck, they would have had all three cars finish in the top five.
Unfortunately, Ryan Blaney, who was leading the race towards the end, 41 laps in-a-row to be exact, has a terrible pit stop. He’d exit 10th. He’d never make up ground and even have to pit under 20 to go for a vibration. He’d go from a race winning contender to 22nd, one lap down.
Joey Logano was leading but after he was passed by Keselowski, he felt a vibration. He ended up with a loose wheel and gave up the second spot to pit with 21 to go. He’d finish 23rd.
This was a race that got away.
Chip Ganassi Racing Fast, But Maybe Too Fast?
Busch, was strong all day and finished in the top five. He likely would have been joined there by his teammate Kyle Larson who was extremely strong all day. In fact, he had the quickest car out of anyone.
Larson, led a race high 142 of 325 laps on Sunday. But, he was caught being too fast on pit road on Lap 223 and had to go to the back of the field. He’d never make up for it as he struggled in dirty air. Larson, only finished 12th despite being in the top two in both stages early.
Busch, was fourth and seventh respectively in the two stages.
SHR/JGR Strong Endings
It should come to no surprise that Stewart Haas Racing was so strong. Last year, the finished 1-3-8-13. The year before they were 7-9-11-17. The year prior to that, they were 4-6-17.
On Sunday, they had 4-5-8-10.
Harvick, won the second stage and was second in the first one. He’s now won four of the six stages in Atlanta. He in fact came from the 18th starting spot and was in the top 10 by Lap 2. By Lap 35, he was third. He took over the lead on Lap 89 and would remain in the top five the rest of the day. If not for a car that got tight over the final half of the race, he would have been a bigger contender.
“We had a good race,” said Harvick. “It just felt like we were one step behind all the way from Friday. We made it the best it had been there at the end of the run. When we got the shadows in (Turns) 1 and 2 and cooled off our car got way too tight and started chattering the right tire. We made it a lot better at the end though. Our Busch Beer Ford had a solid day though and we were able to adjust on the car and make it better throughout the day. We just got really tight in the middle of the race and we just ran out of time.”
Clint Bowyer battled hard for a top five, his second straight. He finished third last year. See, he was quickest in both practice sessions this weekend and for two of the three rounds in qualifying, but they struggled with handling in the early part of Sunday’s race. Luckily, they found the grip in the end to get another top five.
“Our run wasn’t pretty,” said Bowyer. “I knew our car had great speed. Obviously from practice and qualifying. Racing is a different beast, especially at Atlanta. You have to take care of those Goodyears. The way I had it, it felt like I was on top of the track skating around too much. We made good air pressure adjustments and got the grip level back in my race car to where I could compete. It is just weird. You see cars that are kind of up, cars that are down, cars that are dragging, cars that aren’t. Trying to figure out the right scenario for this is going to be interesting. You have to remember, this is a one-off race. There is no track that we go to anymore that is as slick as this and as hard on tires. It will be interesting to see what Las Vegas brings.”
Aric Almirola faded from the end of the first stage on but he found his way back to a top 10 in eighth. See, a pit road speeding penalty cost him precious track position, something that he couldn’t get back.
“Clean air was a big deal,” said Almirola. “Early in the race our car was really fast out front and when we got behind in second it still felt like we were a second or third-place car. Then I made a terrible mistake getting onto pit road and was three-tenths mph too fast and that is too fast. I had to go to the tail and then my goodness was it a challenge. Traffic, cars make so much downforce and we are all going so fast that it is really hard to make passes until late, late, late in the run. So, that is my fault. We had a really fast Smithfield Ford Mustang and it was driver error that made the mistake and that hurt the rest of our day.”
Daniel Suarez looked strong all day in a 10th place run.
For JGR, Kyle Busch went from 35th to 12th by Lap 35. After the pit stops, he was up to fifth. He would have stayed there if not for missing pit lane on the first round of green flag stops in the second stage, then having a right rear flat on Lap 221. Despite damage, he’d rebound to finish sixth.
Denny Hamlin was eighth and fifth respectively in the two stages but before Busch cut a tire, Hamlin had to pit for a vibration. He couldn’t move back up until the end. He’d finish 11th.
Truex, was strong as usual while Erik Jones would finish seventh. Despite a runner-up, Truex said that if not for the lack of respect by the lapped cars, he could have won.
Yeah, I’m a lot frustrated, you know – lapped cars,” said Truex. “They just have no respect for the leaders running for the win. It’s completely uncalled for, ridiculous. It’s a shame. We lined up on that last restart behind all those guys that are a lap down and I know they were racing for the lucky dog, which is all good, but once they got strung out, the 17 (Stenhouse Jr.) … he just wouldn’t let me by. He just kept hugging the bottom, hugging the bottom, hugging the bottom and knew that’s where I needed to run. My spotter kept telling his we need the bottom. These cars punch such a big hole and it’s so bad in dirty air, it completely killed us for 25, 30 laps to the point my front tires were gone once I finally got by him. Hell, I still ran down the 2 (Brad Keselowski) in two laps from half a straightaway. We clearly had the best car and were in position to win. Guys a lap down have to have a little more respect than that.”
Between these eight cars, all finished in the top 11.
Hendrick Motorsports Struggles
The struggles from 2018 carried over to 2019 for the group. Their cars with alliances to them fared better. Chase Elliott has never finished outside the top 10 on his hometrack before and here he finishes 19th, one lap down. Five time Atlanta winner Jimmie Johnson never was a factor and was 24th, two laps down.
Alex Bowman and William Byron led the charge for them in finishing 15th and 17th respectively.
They were a no show this weekend.
JTG Daugherty Racing Shines
Under 100 to go, both JTG cars were in the top 10. They would have finished there if not for Ryan Preece making a big mistake on pit road on Lap 271. See, he exited his pit and was looking at his dash but didn’t see BJ McLeod pitting in front. He ran into the back of him causing too much damage for his No. 47 Chevrolet to continue on.
Chris Buescher though came from 30th to finish ninth.
It was a great day for JTG and gives them high hopes. Preece, finished eighth last week as they have two top 10 finishes in as many races in 2019.
Tough Break For Daniel Hemric In The End
Buescher and Preece weren’t the only surprises in the top 10 in the end. Rookie Daniel Hemric was too. In fact, with under 20 to go, Hemric had his No. 8 Chevrolet running fourth. Unfortunately, his right front tire went down as he’d have to pit with 16 laps remaining.
“Just had a crazy day,” said Hemric. “I thought we were going to put ourselves in position to have a solid day. I made a lot of mistakes, way too many mistakes than what you can make at this level to even have a shot to run top five and still found ourselves in position there to do it and just had a right front tire come apart on our Alsco/Red Kap Camaro ZL1. That was the end of it, but the good thing is I feel like it put a little motivation in everybody here at RCR. That is the kind of race cars we have to have at the race track every week to give ourselves a shot. It was fun to drive, fun to pass people and look forward to next week.”
Aero Package Looked Like Past Years
If no one told you any different, you wouldn’t have noticed much of a difference between this year’s race and the past. We saw 26 lead changes on Sunday. We also saw just five cautions and 17 on the lead lap.
For comparisons sake, we had 24 lead changes, five cautions and 13 cars on the lead lap last year.
In 2016, we had 28 lead changes, three cautions and 12 on the lead lap.
In 2015, we had 28 lead changes, 10 cautions and 13 on the lead lap.
The racing was somewhat closer and even exciting at times, but overall, this looked a lot like the past few years. That’s because of the aged surface and not the full rules package in place.
On Sunday, we ran tapered spacers but not aero ducts. That changes next week in Vegas with having both in place.
New Cars’ 1st Trips To Victory Lane
Among the three manufacturers in NASCAR’s top two divisions, two of which brought a new car to 2019. Toyota would bring the Supra in the XFINITY Series while Ford replaced the Fusion with the Mustang.
On Saturday, Christopher Bell brought the Supra their first trip to victory lane in NASCAR. On Sunday, Keselowski gave Mustang their first win.
It’s a great start of the year for these manufacturers.