HAMPTON, Ga. (AP) — Crew chief Ernie Cope was worried when Kevin Harvick’s practice laps didn’t go as well as expected Friday.
So Cope sought reassurance from his driver.
“I asked, ‘Are we all right?'” Cope said. “He said, ‘We’re going to smash them tomorrow night.'”
Kevin Harvick indeed was a smashing success, leading the final 159 laps to beat Joey Logano and win an unusually wreck-free NASCAR Nationwide Series race at Atlanta Motor Speedway on Saturday night.
Harvick, who will start from the pole Sunday night in the NASCAR Sprint Cup race, took the lead on the 37th lap and ruled the 1.54-mile tri-oval for his third win of the season in 11 races.
“Obviously, the car was flawless from start to finish,” Harvick said.
Kyle Larson started second and finished third. Kyle Busch was fourth, and pole-sitter Chase Elliott fifth.
There was only one lead change, no crashes and two yellow flags, including one after light rain began to fall on Lap 121. Cars ran 13 laps under caution before the race resumed.
The few interruptions limited the chances that Harvick’s dominance could be disturbed. It was a perfect recipe for him to put a lock on the lead and never let go — even if it wasn’t the most exciting 195 laps in track history.
“We’ve dominated so many races and just lost them because of goofy circumstances,” Harvick said.
“When you have a car like that you like to see it go clean. I know everybody likes to see a super-exciting race, but we were good with just a good clean race … because I felt like our chances were pretty good for winning the race.”
Elliott, the season points leader, led the first 36 laps before Harvick pulled ahead. For Dale Earnhardt Jr., the team owner for both cars, it was the perfect scenario.
“Kevin just keeps doing his thing,” Earnhardt said. “It’s been a lot of fun working with him. He’s brought a lot to our team as far as performance and speed. He continues to help us improve our equipment and cars and that raises the competitiveness of the whole company. … That’s pretty unique. You don’t really get that in a lot of race car drivers.”
Harvick isn’t a regular on the Nationwide Series, but he has been a factor in each of his 11 starts. He has finished in the top five in nine races. He was seventh in his other two starts.
“I felt like having him driving our car, we were in good shape to lead a lot of laps and maybe get a victory,” Earnhardt said.
Elliott won his first career pole with a qualifying time of 180.240 mph. The 18-year-old Elliott became the youngest pole winner in Atlanta history. Jeff Gordon was 20 when he won the pole in Atlanta in 1992.
Elliott overshot his pit on his final stop, costing his team valuable seconds and, he said, two spots in the final standings.
“I thought we got better and better as we went,” Elliott said. “I made an unacceptable mistake there at the end and cost us a couple spots. My guys deserved better than that. So my bad.”
A grandstand at Atlanta Motor Speedway is named for Elliott’s father, Bill Elliott, who had five career wins at the track — tied for fifth-best. Bill Elliott was the grand marshal for the race.
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