HAMPTON, Ga. — Leading over 100 laps for the fourth straight year at Atlanta Motor Speedway didn’t translate into a win for Kevin Harvick thanks to a late race pit road penalty.
Starting on the pole, Harvick dominated the Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 from start to the closing laps, leading 292 of 325 laps. His No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford was so dialed in, nobody passed him on track for the lead under green. He only lost the lead during pit stop cycles under green.
The only driver who’s car could match Harvick was Brad Keselowski, but he could only match Harvick for a few laps before Harvick pulled away.
It appeared Keselowski finally had Harvick’s number when he beat him off pit road under the event’s fourth caution, but Keselowski came back down pit road a second time because his crew didn’t tighten all the lug nuts.
With 17 laps to go, Austin Dillon was running top-10 when his car suffered battery issues, the same issue that befell his teammate Ryan Newman. Dillon was told not to pit, his car came to a halt in Turn 2 and the sixth caution flew with 16 to go.
After pitting, the call came in from the NASCAR Pro Trailer that Harvick sped on pit road.
“Ya, this place, for whatever reason, I just feel like I’m snake bitten,” Harvick said after the race. “It’s my own doing today. I really didn’t think I was even close on pit lane. It gets to bouncing around, I thought I was being conservative, apparently I wasn’t.”
Per NASCAR regulations, he was required to restart at the tail end of the field behind all the wave around cars.
Restarting 18th* with 11 to go, Harvick worked his way past the wave around cars and brought his car home to a ninth-place finish.
“I just made a mistake that I preach all the time that you don’t need to make and beat yourself and then you go out and make it yourself instead of following all the things you preach. That part is hard for me to swallow,” he said. “The good part about it is our Ford has been really fast. We didn’t know what we were going to have when we got here and we had a great weekend the whole time. Man, I just, one way or another I have figured out how to lose races here at Atlanta after being so dominant. We will pick ‘em up and start again next week.”
The Hampton, Georgia facility that was the site of Harvick’s first career win in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series victory in 2001 has “snake bitten” him each of his last four visits.
In 2014, Harvick started on the pole and led 195 of the 335 laps. But he was caught up in a late race restart wreck and came home 19th. In 2015, he led 116 of 325 laps, only to lose on the final restart and finish runner-up to Jimmie Johnson. Last season, he led 131 of 330 laps, but lost the lead under a green pit cycle to Johnson with around 40 laps to go. He cut a 14-second deficit down to five, but Ryan Newman cutting a tire and spinning out on the frontstretch brought out the caution and setup an overtime finish. He spun the tires on the final restart and came home sixth.
*This story has been corrected to show that Harvick restarted 18th on the final restart, rather than 14th as originally reported.