Atlanta Motor Speedway, Hampton, GA — June 7, 2020
The drivers and crews were on site, fan’s and RV’s packed the campgrounds, everyone was ready for the Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 on Sunday, March 15th. Then the fear of the coronavirus pandemic brought everything to a screeching halt.
NASCAR is back, and today the race at Atlanta Motor Speedway will finally be run. Almost three months late, with no fans and far fewer support personnel. Still, they are racing, one of the few sports providing competition at present.
Chase Elliott starts on the pole for today’s race, courtesy of a blind draw, with Aric Almirola next to him on the front row. Joey Logano and Kyle Busch line up on the 2nd row. Kurt Busch will forfeit the 12th starting position and drop to the rear of the field for the green flag. He will also serve a drive-through penalty under green for failing pre-race inspection three times. Corey LaJoie (two inspection failures), Cole Custer (unapproved adjustments), Garrett Smithley (two inspection failures), and Timmy Hill (unapproved adjustments) will join Busch at the back of the pack.
Stages are 105/105/115 making up the 325 laps and 500 miles around the 1.54-mile oval. Last week’s winner at Bristol, Brad Keselowski, is the defending champion. But, Kevin Harvick is the prohibitive favorite leading the most laps and winning the most stages over the last five years at the track. He will start in the 9th position today.
Logano pushes Elliott to a safe lead at the drop of the green flag as the rest of the field spread out two and three wide. Kurt Busch served his penalty and rejoined the race one lap down. The race stayed green until the competition caution scheduled by NASCAR for lap 25. Elliott led them all, Harvick moved up to 4th, Keselowski ran 6th and Kurt Busch got the lucky-dog free-pass to get back on the lead lap.
After the competition caution pit stops, Logano led off pit road, followed by Kyle Busch, Harvick, Elliott, and Clint Bowyer. On the restart, William Byron cut down a left rear tire in Turn 3 and hit the outside wall. Byron had to pit for a new Goodyear and repairs to the sheet metal, he lost 5 laps in the process. A damaged valve stem caused the tire to go down. A team mistake that cost their driver any chance at the win.
Logano led for 9 laps after taking the green. Finding his groove around the inside of the track, Harvick drove to the front on Lap 37. Green flag pitstops began at Lap 65 for fresh tires and after cycling through the leaders, Harvick added to his lead over Martin Truex Jr.
Harvick led for 17 laps until being passed by Truex. As the laps wound down John Hunter Nemechek spun with 10 laps left in the stage and everyone came to pit road for fresh tires. The lineup for the sprint to the finish was determined as the cars exited the pits. Truex remained the leader by being first off, followed by Harvick, Bowyer, Logano, and Kyle Busch.
Truex held on for the stage win, but the remainder of the top 10 finishers that earned points were shuffled by the scramble to the green and white checkered flag.
Stage One Results
|1||19||Martin Truex Jr.|
|7||47||Ricky Stenhouse Jr.|
*Ford Mustang Drivers
Bowyer captured the top spot with quick work on his pitstop during the Stage ending caution. Truex, Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin, and Elliott will follow to the green flag for the restart.
The top two battled side-by-side for three laps until Bowyer prevailed and Truex dropped in behind him for 2nd. Bowyer led until just before the halfway point of the race when he had a tire begin to come apart and lose tread. A strip of the tread on the middle of the right rear tire tore loose and began flapping the inner fender well. The tire still held air allowing Bowyer to drive into the pits for service.
The leaders began pitting on Lap 160 and when everyone had made their green flag stops, Bowyer was back out front. He held a 7.5-second lead over Truex with the advantage of fresh tires cutting his lap times, while everyone else waited for their normal pit stop cycle. The bad news. Bowyer will likely have to make an extra pit stop before the end of the Stage.
Truex closed the gap and passed Bowyer for the top spot with 26 laps to go in Stage 2. Bower’s crew had told him to save his tries as he had enough fuel to finish the Stage, even if a slower pace cost him a few positions.
Another Late Caution
With nine laps to go in the Stage, Michael McDowell spun on the front stretch. The caution brought all the lead laps to pit road, Bowyer had dropped to 9th place. Kyle Busch came out of the pits still with the lead, followed by Truex, Harvey, Blaney, and Keselowski. Bowyer had blistered the right rear tire again, but he avoided an extra pitstop and will restart in 8th place.
Busch and Truex fought for the lead into Turn 1, with Truex coming out on top. He held on to win Stage 2, sweeping the first two Stages for the first time this year.
Stage Two Results
|1||19||Martin Truex Jr.|
*Ford Mustang Drivers
The Final Stage
Again Kyle Busch and Truex restarted on the front row, this time Busch drove off into Turn 1 with the lead. However, before the lap was complete Harvick was the new leader. As the scramble for spots settled down Kyle Busch, Truex, Elliott, and Keselowski made up the top 5.
The leaders began to make green-flag pit stops with 61 laps to go. Harvick pitted with 57 laps left in the race and held his lead over Truex when he returned to the racing surface. The strategy appeared to be to split the final Stage in half requiring only 1 stop before the finish. That will go out the window if there is a late caution as everyone will then pit for new tires.
With no incidents and no cautions, Harvick cruised to the victory. Only 10 cars remained on the lead lap at the finish.
Results of the Folds of Honor 500 from Atlanta Motor Speedway
|3||19||Martin Truex Jr.||4.708||325|
|13||47||Ricky Stenhouse Jr.||-1||324|
|23||38||John Hunter Nemechek||-1||324|