(NASCAR Wire Service)
Reid Spencer ~ NASCAR Wire Service
HAMPTON, Ga. – Chase Elliott spent much of Sunday’s Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 running in Kevin Harvick’s shadow.
Elliott had a fast Chevrolet, as he proved conclusively after incurring a pit road speeding penalty on Lap 212. Despite serving a pass-through for the infraction, Elliott stayed on the lead lap and was running faster lap times than Harvick when a debris caution on Lap 240 slowed the field and gave Elliott a chance to regain track position.
When the race restarted on Lap 284 after caution for Clint Bowyer’s hard contact with the Turn 2 wall, Elliott was running second, and he chased Harvick for 25 laps before another caution interrupted the proceedings on Lap 309.
But when Harvick drew a critical pit road speeding penalty on Lap 311, it wasn’t Elliott who capitalized. It was race winner Brad Keselowski. On a restart on lap 315, after a slow final pit stop, Elliott took the green in fourth position in the outside lane – a distinct disadvantage – and fell back to fifth at the finish.
“Yeah, (I’m) obviously frustrated,” Elliott said after the race. “I thought our car was as good as Kevin’s car was. I just think he did a little better job driving than what I was doing. I thought we could run second to him. The majority of the day I thought Brad at times was a little better than us, and at times I thought we were a little better than him.
“On that last stop, we had just a little bit of a hiccup that lost us second spot unfortunately, and after Kevin’s misfortune, that would have put us in a really good spot. It’s one of those things where it’s hard to be frustrated at the pit crew, because those guys did a really good job all day long. We made spots up all day and gained time on Kevin.
“Every time I thought we were just inching closer to his back bumper as we came off pit road. I think we have a great foundation on pit road to build off of. I think (it’s) much improved, and just had a hiccup there at the end of the day, but I don’t think it’s something those guys should be discouraged over.”
SNEAKY-FAST MATT KENSETH SALVAGES THIRD-PLACE RUN
Matt Kenseth overcame a double whammy to post an unlikely third-place finish in Sunday’s Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
On a green-flag pit stop on Lap 36, Kenseth was flagged for speeding while entering pit road. Under caution at the end of Stage 1 on Lap 89, NASCAR nailed him again for going too fast while exiting pit lane and kept him a lap down.
Kenseth spent the next 170 laps hustling to get in the “lucky dog” position and finally earned a free pass back to the lead lap when Gray Gaulding’s engine blew on Lap 263 to cause the fourth caution of the afternoon.
From that point on, Kenseth charged toward the front, ultimately finishing third behind race winner Brad Keselowski and runner-up Kyle Larson.
“Yeah, it was a good comeback,” Kenseth said. “It was an uphill battle all day. For some reason, our speed was off on pit road, and we got two penalties there that put us behind and just the cautions fell and everything and it took all day to get our laps and get back in position.
“So everything kind of went our way at the end, except for that outside restart hurt us (on Lap 315), but we had a good car and glad we got a decent result.”
KASEY KAHNE RECOVERS FROM EARLY ISSUES TO RUN FOURTH
Atlanta Motor Speedway is a track that has given Kasey Kahne three of his 17 career victories, but the start of Sunday’s Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 was anything but auspicious for the driver of the No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet.
Kahne started 29th, and early handling problems caused him to lose a lap to race leader Kevin Harvick. But astute adjustments to the car by crew chief Keith Rodden enabled Kahne to regain the lost lap, and a lightning-fast pit stop late in the race put him in position to claim a fourth-place finish.
“We got behind early and just battled and battled,” said Kahne, who posted his best result since a third-place run last October at Charlotte. “Had to battle (Matt) Kenseth for a long time for the lucky dog, and he got it and he drove to the front. I knew he was really good. We just got a lot better. The adjustments were spot on. If we didn’t have those, we would have been two or three laps down.”
In the end, the quality work of Kahne’s crew made a crucial difference.
“The pit stops were really solid, and then our final pit stop was the best stop we had all day at the perfect time,” Kahne said. “That put us in row three (for a restart with 11 laps left), and we were able to get to fourth.
“It was a great race. Our Farmers Insurance Chevrolet really came alive. It was good. It was fun. It was quite the battle. Five hundred miles at Atlanta is a long time to run right on the wall or right on the white line and switch it up.”