Three months after it was postponed, the NASCAR Cup Series finally made its trip to Atlanta Motor Speedway on Sunday for the Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500. Kevin Harvick would dominate the final stage en route to his second victory of the season.
After a random draw, Chase Elliott started on the pole at his home circuit ahead of Aric Almirola. Among those relegated to the back were Corey LaJoie and Garrett Smithley for failing inspection twice, Timmy Hill and Cole Custer for unapproved adjustments, and Kurt Busch for three failed inspections. Busch also received a pass-through penalty.
As protests for racial equality and against police brutality continued to sweep the United States and the world, NASCAR formally stepped up with a special pre-race ceremony to acknowledge Black Lives Matter. The previous weekend saw various drivers and industry figures voice their support for the movement, including a formal statement from NASCAR.
Keedron Bryant, a 12-year-old gospel singer who wrote a viral tribute song support the movement, performed the national anthem. During pace laps, the field was stopped on the frontstretch for a radio message from NASCAR President Steve Phelps, while the pit crews stood on the pit wall. A video from the drivers was also aired on Fox; those participating had shared it on social media prior to the race.
Other gestures of solidarity included Bubba Wallace wearing a shirt with the phrase “I Can’t Breathe”—the final words of George Floyd prior to his killing that sparked the protests—and a Richard Petty Motorsports crewman holding the same shirt on pit road.
“I’ve been racing my whole life. Bubba Wallace is like many drivers that I have encountered along the way: thoughtful, talented, fiercely competitive,” Fox announcer Jeff Gordon said prior to pre-race ceremonies. “We share in the fact that we made it to the pinnacle of motorsports: the NASCAR Cup Series. But our journeys, both professional and personal, are vastly different. I’ll never know what it’s like to walk in Bubba’s shoes or the shoes of anyone who has experienced racism.
“But I do know I can do better. We can do better to create positive change. I’ve been in NASCAR for more than 25 years, and when people are in pain, when the world’s in crisis, our community doesn’t take that lightly and wants to do their part to help. But we need to step up now, more than we ever have in the past. We are listening. We are learning. We are ready for change.
Elliott took off to lead his first career Cup laps at Atlanta, while Busch hit pit road to serve his penalty. After just five laps, B.J. McLeod retired from the race when he lost power in his car; having debuted his B.J. McLeod Motorsports team at the Cup level when the season resumed last month, he brought a superspeedway car to Atlanta for inventory reasons.
The competition caution came out on lap 25 with Elliott leading every lap. However, he lost three spots in the pits as Joey Logano was the first out.
The race resumed on lap 31. During the lap, William Byron suffered a flat tyre after the valve stem fell off on his stop and hit the outside wall, forcing him to pit.
Harvick took the lead on lap 35 with Martin Truex Jr. in tow. By lap 50, Busch had worked his way into the top twenty.
Green-flag stops began shortly after. Ryan Newman and Brad Keselowski, the latter the defending race winner, suffered speeding penalties on their stops. Harvick shuffled back to the lead after the pit cycle was completed, but lost the position to Truex on lap 87.
With 11 laps remaining in the stage, John Hunter Nemechek spun in turn four for the second caution of the day. Truex continued to lead to the green-checkered flag for his first stage victory of 2020, while a poor restart by Harvick enabled Stewart-Haas Racing team-mate Clint Bowyer and Kyle Busch to pass him.
Receiving stage points were Truex, Busch, Bowyer, Hamlin, Harvick, Elliott, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Erik Jones, Jimmie Johnson, and Ryan Blaney. The top ten included all four Joe Gibbs Racing drivers.
Bowyer won the race off pit road. Despite a brief effort by Truex to take the lead, Bowyer reclaimed it shortly after.
Green flag stops started on lap 148, though Bowyer pitted beforehand after a tyre went down. Wallace was forced to pit again for a loose left-rear wheel. Once the pit cycle ended, Truex retook the lead.
On lap 202, Nemechek’s Front Row Motorsports partner Michael McDowell suffered the same fate in the same turn for the caution. Busch took the lead for the restart, but lost it to Truex.
Truex ran unopposed to his second stage win and the 40th of his career. Tailing were Blaney, Busch, Denny Hamlin, Elliott, Harvick, Matt DiBenedetto, Keselowski, Bowyer, and Johnson.
Busch and Truex comprised the front row for the start of the final stage, though a bad restart for the former pushed Harvick ahead.
The final series of stops under green commenced with 61 laps remaining. Harvick gave up the lead to pit four laps later. Blaney inherited the top position before following suit, with Logano also spending time in front.
When Logano arrived on pit road with McDowell as the final lead-lap pitter, Harvick was back in front. Ty Dillon and Jones were slapped with speeding penalties on their stops.
Hill exited the race with approximately 50 laps to go for electrical issues. However, tyres were the main concern for the field as the laps ticked down. Bowyer, Preece, and DiBenedetto all lost a tyre that forced him to pit road.
On Twitter, Go Fas Racing (Corey LaJoie‘s team) quipped it was “the classic tire-mileage race.”
At the front, Truex was unable to catch Harvick as he drove off to his second win of 2020 and third at Atlanta. It is Harvick’s 51st career Cup win, moving him to twelfth on the all-time win list as he broke a tie with Junior Johnson and Ned Jarrett. For crew chief Rodney Childers, it was the perfect birthday present as he turned 44 on Sunday.
Harvick celebrated his win by driving a victory lap backwards with three fingers splayed, a tribute to the late Dale Earnhardt. The 2014 champion had performed the same gesture when he scored his first career win at the track in 2001, just weeks after taking over Earnhardt’s car.
“First win came for me here at Atlanta, this is just a race that that I’ve taken a liking to,” Harvick remarked in his interview with Fox.