Monster Energy NASCAR Cup
OBSERVATIONS: Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway
While Daytona is an animal on its own, the Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway is believed to be the start of the real race season for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series.
After dominating the past couple of years but missing out on a win, Kevin Harvick got to see the Georgia victory lane for the second time in his career. Really, this weekend was all about the veteran as he dominated both the Cup race, and the NASCAR XFINITY Series Rinnai 250.
Throughout the event, drivers battled back and forth for position as it didn’t become a simple parade of cars around the speedway. There were passes to be seen, as competitors tried to balance running hard and not wearing out their tires. The threat of weather played a role, too, with the battle for the lead turning three-wide with about 120 laps to go.
Like a good intermediate race, there was also strategy involved as Denny Hamlin went a different route than the others. His crew chief Mike Wheeler elected to go for a two-stop strategy, versus three like his competitors. After pitting, it cycled out that he was second, rather than sixth if he would’ve followed the original course.
While Fords were seen to have a disadvantage last year – just ask Brad Keselowski as he made plenty of comments during the second half of the season, they swept the top-three spots once the event was over. As a result, it seems the tables have turned, according to Denny Hamlin.
— Jeff Gluck (@jeff_gluck) February 26, 2018
Truthfully, any arguments do not have foundation as neither Toyota or Ford made any changes from last to this season. Chevrolet was the only manufacture to do so, introducing the Camaro ZL1 to the Cup Series. It did not play as warranted on Sunday, as Ryan Newman was strong early but faded, and none of their drivers played a real factor in the battle for the win.
The team hit hardest by Chevrolet’s change has to be Hendrick Motorsports. None of their four drivers qualified or practice well during the weekend, and all of them spent the majority of the event outside of the top-10. Heck, even Jimmie Johnson went for a spin off the corner. They did have one saving grace, as Chase Elliott got a little stronger during the race’s second half, squeezing out a 10th-place finish.
“We have a lot of work to do,” Elliott said. “Fighting to stay on the lead lap is not where you want to be. We will go to work and great job by our NAPA team today to salvage what we could. I don’t know how much more we really could have got there, maybe a spot or two there at the end, but I felt like we did a pretty good job making the most of what we had.”
Whether there is hope for the future, that is yet to be seen by Elliott did say he has an idea of what his team needs to do better.
ALSO….. In an effort to help curb development costs on equipment development, NASCAR began mandating the pit guns used by teams on pit road, handing them three before the race – a front, a rear, and a spare. Three teams had problems throughout the event with them, including race winner Harvick. The issues ultimately proved costly for both Martin Truex Jr. and Kyle Busch, though, who both lost valuable track position in the process. Just imagine if down the road one of these issues costs someone a victory.
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