Saturday’s motors: Harvick dominates in Atlanta

Charles Odum
Associated Press

Hampton, Ga. — For Joey Logano, the final 4-second margin behind Kevin Harvick felt more like a full lap.

Harvick led 141 of 163 laps Saturday for his fifth NASCAR Xfinity series victory at Atlanta Motor Speedway and fourth in the last six years.

Logano finished second, ahead of Christopher Bell, who started on the pole. They were the only other drivers to lead laps.

Almost from the very start, the race belonged to Harvick.

“I don’t think we were even close,” Logano said. “Kevin played with us all race long.”

Added Bell: “You’re supposed to be struggling but he (Logano) was struggling a little bit less and Harvick was struggling a lot less. That’s the gap we’ve got to make up.”

Harvick started fifth but quickly moved to the lead while winning each of the first two stages.

“That was a lot of fun to be a part of,” he said.

He also won the 2009 and 2013-2015 Atlanta Xfinity races before Kyle Busch won the last two years.

Harvick served as Bell’s escort, guiding him around the 1.54-mile track through most of the second half of the race. Bell remained within a few seconds of Harvick’s Ford but couldn’t seriously challenge. Logano passed Bell for second with five laps remaining.

It was only the latest show of dominance by Harvick in Atlanta. In last season’s Monster Energy Cup race, Harvick led 292 laps before finishing ninth after being hurt by a pit road speeding penalty. Harvick finished fourth in Atlanta’s 2017 Xfinity race.

“We were frustrated here last year,” Harvick said. “We didn’t leave here with a trophy either day and that’s always our goal. … I felt bad that we didn’t do that last year but this is a great way to start off this year.”

Harvick will start fourth in Sunday’s Cup race. He’ll be in a different car, but he said the Xfinity experience will help him prepare for what he described as a “rhythm race track.”

From the view of Harvick’s rivals, he was in a rhythm of his own in his 98 Ford.

“I can’t really figure out why Kevin is so good here,” Logano said. “It doesn’t seem to really matter what car he’s in. He’s just good.

“Christopher and I had a good race. I wish it were for the win.”

Rookie John Hunter Nemechek, the son of former driver Joe Nemechek, was fourth. The younger Nemechek is a full-time driver on the NASCAR Truck series.

“I had an open mindset coming into this weekend,” Nemechek said. “… I didn’t know where we were going to stack up in qualifying. I didn’t know where we were going to stack up in the race. It was a good learning curve.”

Elliott Sadler finished fifth.

Moffitt wins truck race

Kyle Busch lost the lead – and his left rear tire – on a late pit stop, opening the way for Brett Moffitt’s improbable win in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

Busch was leading when Josh Reaume hit the wall with six laps to go. The caution presented an opportunity for late visits to the pits for the leaders.

Busch’s crew first put on right-side tires. He pulled away before the crew was finished with his left rear tire. The tire came off before Busch could return to the track. He then backed up on pit row with sparks flying from underneath the truck.

Using the inside lane, Moffitt took the lead on the restart and pulled away in his Toyota for his second career win.

“I was able to make up a lot of ground there and just get under people,” Moffitt said. “… It seemed like our motor was really good on restarts.”

It was team owner Shigeaki Hattori’s first career win.

Noah Gragson finished second. Like Moffitt, he made the most of the restart.

“I came from ninth and I think I was second halfway down that straightaway,” Gragson said.

Johnny Sauter, who won last week’s race at Daytona, was third.

“I felt like we were in the right position and it just didn’t work out,” Sauter said. “That’s racing. … When you have a shot to win you feel like you need to capitalize on it. I didn’t do that tonight.”

Ben Rhodes was fourth.

Busch, who started from the pole, was denied his 50th career Truck victory. He finished 21st.

Busch also will start from the pole in Sunday’s Monster Energy Cup race.