A stomach virus wasn’t going to keep Brad Keselowski away from Victory Lane. Despite suffering from illness over the weekend and having a backup driver on standby, he successfully drove to the win in Sunday’s Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
Aric Almirola started on the pole alongside Ricky Stenhouse Jr. Kyle Busch, running his 500th Cup race and coming off his record-breaking 51st Gander Outdoors Truck Series win the night before, qualified sixth but started thirty-fifth after wrecking his car in final practice and having to switch to a backup. Keselowski started nineteenth, but the flu kept him from practicing; Team Penske‘s Xfinity Series driver Austin Cindric, who has no Monster Energy Cup experience, drove the #2 in practice. Cindric remained on standby for race day, but Keselowski ultimately ran the entirety.
On Sunday morning, Keselowski tweeted his confidence entering the race:
Finished my 2nd IV and feeling ready to run the distance today @amsupdates
Feeling really good about our car.
— Brad Keselowski (@keselowski) February 24, 2019
Stenhouse led a lap before Almirola reclaimed the position, retaining it until the competition caution on lap 35. In the meantime, Landon Cassill experienced a flat tyre and had to pit, dropping him two laps down.
By the yellow, Almirola had led all but one lap, with Kyle Larson behind him after battling with Stenhouse for second. Busch had moved up to twelfth. During stops, Larson took the lead as the first to exit pit road.
The race resumed on lap 41 as Almirola spun his tyres, causing his outside lane to have a slow restart as Larson took off. On lap 63, Garrett Smithley — running Spire Motorsports‘ first race with the #77 and whose car chief was ejected prior to the race after failing inspection twice — reported to the garage with technical issues. He eventually returned to the race on lap 111, albeit multiple laps down.
Larson stormed off to score the stage win, ahead of Kevin Harvick, Almirola, Kurt Busch, Martin Truex Jr., Ryan Blaney, Joey Logano, Denny Hamlin, Stenhouse, and Clint Bowyer.
Harvick won the race off pit road to become the leader for Stage #2, which began on lap 93. A strong restart by Busch and Truex placed them in the top five, but Larson held his ground as he ran second.
Lap 125 saw the beginning of green flag stops with the leaders, during which Stenhouse received a too-fast entering penalty. Kyle Busch missed the pit road entrance and dropped to fifteenth, while Keselowski suffered from a broken jack. As stops continued, Larson shuffled into first before Harvick caught up.
With eight laps to go in the stage, Harvick finally passed Larson and held him off to take the stage victory. Truex finished third, followed by Blaney, Hamlin, Logano, Kurt Busch, Erik Jones, Kyle Busch, and Bowyer.
The final stage began on lap 178 as Harvick briefly led before Larson claimed the lead. Kyle Busch took first on lap 202 before Larson fought back. Michael McDowell exited the race with a parts failure on lap 209.
Despite Busch’s progress, he suffered a tyre rub that ultimately doomed his right-rear tyre on lap 223, bringing out the caution. Although Larson was the fastest off pit road, he proved to be too fast as he was penalised for speeding, dropping him to sixteenth for the lap 229 restart; Harvick became the new leader.
Truex and the Penske duo of Blaney and Logano eventually overwhelmed Harvick, with Blaney going to the lead. As Harvick started to drop, Keselowski began his move up.
On lap 273, the caution came out for a bizarre pit road incident: Ryan Preece was exiting his pit box as B.J. McLeod, having a flat tyre, prepared to enter his. Preece glanced at his tachometer and inadvertently clipped McLeod, spinning the #52 backwards and destroying the #47’s front end.
“I was just trying to make sure I wasn’t speeding,” Preece stated in an interview with Fox. “When I looked up, [McLeod] was coming in a bit. Just a mistake, what are you going to do?”
“One of the leaders was behind me and I wanted to keep my speed up rather than slow down and roll into the stall easy,” McLeod explained. “I kept my speed up until the last minute and turned last-minute to make sure that I wasn’t going to hurt [one] of them. And at the same time, Ryan was coming out of his stall and he was checking speed to try and make sure he got the most and didn’t know I was coming into mine. We just caught one another.”
The next restart came with 43 laps to go as Logano led Kurt Busch, but Keselowski quickly sliced through for the top spot. As the race prepared to wind down, Logano pitted with 21 laps to go for a loose wheel, and Blaney did the same ten laps later for a flat right-front tyre.
Truex attempted to mount a charge and closed on Keselowski with two laps remaining, but could not pass him as Keselowski scored his 28th Cup win. Kurt Busch took third, followed by Harvick, Bowyer, Kyle Busch, Jones, Almirola, Chris Buescher, and Daniel Suárez.
Keselowski also recorded his 60th win with Penske across all racing disciplines, passing Mark Donohue.
“I think any win means a lot, but  is a big number,” Keselowski said in Victory Lane. “Now I get to wear that yellow Mark Donohue helmet. […] We’re going to wear it next week.”