One lap, and a series of cautions, changed the entire complexion of Saturday's Nationwide Series race at Atlanta Motor Speedway. A late-race caution between Danica Patrick and James Buescher bunched the field up for one more restart, with Ricky Stenhouse Jr. overtaking a dominant Kevin Harvick on the last lap to win the NRA American Warrior 300.
Harvick was Superman all day, at one point lapping all but six other cars as the third caution dropped on lap 65. The remainder of the race was filled with sporadic cautions but one common theme - Harvick gaining and maintaining the lead.
He even restarted fifth at one point, on lap 87, and took the leaders three-wide into turn 1 to regain the top spot. Harvick had the easiest time navigating through traffic and was absolutely untouchable in clean air.
That is, until the final restart.
Brad Keselowski, on much fresher tires, pushed Stenhouse past Kevin Harvick on the final restart, a scenario that should have never played out according to Harvick.
Due to the timing of the caution - which fell at the end of green-flag pit stops - two drivers were able to pit for fresher tires than Harvick. One of those drivers, Brad Keselowski, helped push eventual race winner Ricky Stenhouse Jr. past Harvick.
Around the time of the debris caution, ESPN showed viewers at home - and on Sprint Vision screens at the track - an in-car video of Keselowski throwing a water bottle out of his window during the green flag. While that's a common practice for drivers, it led many viewers to believe the caution was connected to the water bottle based on the TV images.
Even Harvick's team thought the water bottle was the "debris" which brought out the yellow. Harvick was told about the water bottle toss while still in the car, and it infuriated him - especially when Keselowski wasn't penalized for it.
But as it turned out, he and his team had the wrong information. Keselowski did throw a water bottle out the window, but that didn't have anything to do with the yellow flag.
Keselowski drafted around the 1.5-mile circuit behind Stenhouse Jr., proving the difference in Saturday night's race.
A note on the Saturday night Atlanta Motor Speedway schedule as well as the complete race results can be found after the jump.
Perhaps this isn't an issue to fans but the schedule this weekend at Atlanta leaves a lot to be desired. There's just not enough going on to occupy three full days of racing. Friday provided media obligations, practices sessions, qualifying and the Camping World Truck Series race but Saturday and Sunday feels largely lifeless.
Perhaps Speedway officials and NASCAR should consider consolidating the weekend into a two-day racing show, eliminating most of Friday's track activity, giving fans more to do on Saturday without having to spend their entire Friday at the facility.
NASCAR likes holding the Sprint Cup race on Sunday nights because it delivers a sizeable television rating. So instead of cutting from the end of the weekend, I suggest cutting from the beginning. Three full days at the Speedway is just too much, even for yours truly.
Final Laps: Stenhouse Jr. catches Harvick (via TheOfficialNASCAR)
Nationwide Series Post-Race Reactions: Atlanta (via TheOfficialNASCAR)
|1||2||6||Ricky Stenhouse Jr.||Ford||Cargill||47/4||195||Running|
|2||8||22||Brad Keselowski||Dodge||Discount Tire||0||195||Running|
|3||3||33||Kevin Harvick||Chevrolet||Bad Boy Buggies||0||195||Running|
|4||7||2||Elliott Sadler||Chevrolet||OneMain Financial||40/0||195||Running|
|6||9||3||Austin Dillon *||Chevrolet||American Ethanol||38/0||195||Running|
|7||1||54||Kyle Busch||Toyota||Monster Energy||0||195||Running|
|8||12||88||Cole Whitt *||Chevrolet||NASCAR Bashers||36/0||195||Running|
|9||6||12||Sam Hornish Jr.||Dodge||Detroit Genuine Parts||36/1||195||Running|
|10||14||43||Michael Annett||Ford||Old Wisconsin / Pilot Flying J||34/0||195||Running|
|11||15||11||Brian Scott||Toyota||Dollar General||33/0||193||Running|
|12||5||18||Denny Hamlin||Toyota||Z-Line Designs||0||193||Running|
|14||18||87||Joe Nemechek||Toyota||AM-FM Energy Wood & Pellet Stoves / AC General||30/0||193||Running|
|15||25||51||Jeremy Clements||Chevrolet||Phoenix Group Metals / stjude.org||29/0||191||Running|
|16||20||81||Jason Bowles *||Toyota||theRANDOMact.org||28/0||191||Running|
|18||38||19||Tayler Malsam||Toyota||G-Oil / Noah's Light Foundation||26/0||189||Running|
|20||28||40||Erik Darnell||Chevrolet||Park 'N Fly||24/0||187||Running|
|21||30||14||Eric McClure||Toyota||Hefty / Reynolds Wrap||23/0||187||Running|
|23||23||30||James Buescher||Chevrolet||Central Wire||0||185||Accident|
|24||35||124||Benny Gordon *||Toyota||American Childhood Cancer Organization||20/0||184||Running|
|25||24||108||Kyle Fowler||Ford||Commercial Disposal / Techiweld||19/0||183||Accident|
|26||16||199||Travis Pastrana||Toyota||Boost Mobile||19/1||173||Running|
|27||19||50||David Starr||Chevrolet||Liberty Tire Recycling||0||130||Engine|
|28||4||38||Kasey Kahne||Chevrolet||Great Clips||0||128||Accident|
|29||40||70||Tony Raines||Chevrolet||Tidal Wave Response||0||105||Brakes|
|30||26||171||Matthew Carter||Chevrolet||Lilly Trucking||14/0||101||Ignition|
|31||41||23||Robert Richardson Jr.||Chevrolet||North Texas Pipe||13/0||68||Accident|
|32||11||198||Reed Sorenson||Ford||Carroll Shelby Engines||12/0||63||Accident|
|34||37||89||Morgan Shepherd||Chevrolet||Hyland's Leg Cramps / Racing With Jesus||10/0||35||Handling|
|35||21||10||Jeff Green||Toyota||TriStar Motorsports||9/0||25||Vibration|
|36||22||100||Blake Koch||Chevrolet||Ruch Motorsports||8/0||14||Ignition|
|38||31||46||Chase Miller||Chevrolet||The Motorsports Group||6/0||7||Vibration|
|39||39||174||Mike Harmon||Chevrolet||Koma Unwind Relaxation Drink||5/0||6||Overheating|
|40||29||42||Josh Wise||Chevrolet||Curtis Key Plumbing||0||5||Electrical|
|41||32||171||Carl Long||Chevrolet||RWR / Lilly Trucking||3/0||4||Fuel Pressure|
|42||34||47||J.J. Yeley||Chevrolet||Curtis Key Plumbing||0||3||Overheating|
|43||43||52||Joey Gase *||Chevrolet||Metro Ministries||1/0||2||Accident|