5 Lessons Learned at Atlanta Motor Speedway

By Jared Turner

Kahne, Larson and Elliott Are The Real Deal

Three drivers who combined for a total of one win in 2016 have been particularly fast out of the gate in 2017. Those drivers are Hendrick Motorsports’ Kasey Kahne, Chip Ganassi Racing’s Kyle Larson and Hendrick’s Chase Elliott. All three were in contention to win the Daytona 500 in the final laps, with Elliott and Larson running out of gas and Kahne coming home seventh. Then on Sunday in Atlanta, all three finished in the top 10 as Larson (second) led the way over Kahne (fourth) and Elliott (fifth). Considering the vast differences between Daytona International Speedway and Atlanta Motor Speedway, performing equally well at both places is  a really good sign for Kahne, Larson and Elliott.

NASCAR Is Cracking Down On Speeding

Think NASCAR is playing when it comes to penalties for speeding on pit road? Think again. The sanctioning body handed down a total of 13 penalties for speeding infractions over the 325 laps that made up Sunday’s race. Among the transgressors were some of the sport’s biggest names and most accomplished drivers: Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jimmie Johnson, Matt Kenseth, Joey Logano, Clint Bowyer, Denny Hamlin, Martin Truex Jr. and Chase Elliott. Of all the penalties, none was of greater consequence than the pass-through penalty issued to Harvick on Lap 311 of 325. As a result, Harvick — who led a whopping 292 laps and had easily the best car in the field — finished a disappointing ninth.

“Bad Brad” Was Both Lucky And Good

Brad Keselowski didn’t lead but 21 of 325 laps at Atlanta. But the Team Penske driver ran near the front for almost the entire race, giving himself an opportunity to take advantage of any misfortune that might beset Kevin Harvick — whose No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford was hands-down the car to beat. So when NASCAR flagged Harvick for speeding on pit road under the race’s final caution period, Keselowski was there to capitalize — and capitalize the 2012 series champion did by passing Kyle Larson and scoring the win. The lesson learned here is both old and simple: The fastest car doesn’t always win. But to win, you must at least put yourself in position to have a chance.

SHR’s Switch To Ford Is Paying Off

Stewart-Haas Racing’s off-season switch from Chevrolet to Ford was clearly the right move. A week after SHR driver Kurt Busch won the Daytona 500 in thrilling fashion, SHR was in position to start the year off 2-for-2 before a late-race penalty on Kevin Harvick at Atlanta dropped the race’s dominant driver down to ninth in the final finishing order. But prior to the Harvick penalty and teammate Clint Bowyer slapping the wall with just a few laps remaining, SHR was in position to put three cars in the top 10 thanks to Harvick, Bowyer and Busch. Despite the misfortune of Harvick and Bowyer, SHR still put three cars in the top 11, with SHR’s other driver, Danica Patrick, coming home a respectable 17th.

Roush Fenway Racing Is Improved

After several years in purgatory of sorts, Roush Fenway Racing appears to be headed down the right path. Formerly one of NASCAR’s premier organizations, RFR has been shut out of Victory Lane the past two seasons and downsized from three teams to two over the winner when Greg Biffle announced plans to step away from the sport. Now with just a two-car stable for the first time since the mid-90s, RFR faces atypically low expectations from much of the NASCAR community. But after two races, the company has three top-10 finishes — the best being Trevor Bayne’s 10th-place finish in the Daytona 500. Bayne and teammate Ricky Stenhouse Jr. finished 12th and 13th, respectively, at Atlanta — not bad for an organization that many thought would continue to struggle.