Sunday, March 1, 2015

Jimmie Johnson starts from the back and dominates late in Atlanta win

Jimmie Johnson starts from the back and dominates late in Atlanta win

Mar. 1, 2015

By Reid Spencer
NASCAR Wire Service

HAMPTON, Ga.—Coors Light Polesitter Joey Logano and Kevin Harvick dominated the early and middle stages of Sunday's Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway—before Jimmie Johnson decided to crash the party.

Johnson didn't take the lead in the second NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race of the season until Lap 198 of 325, but from then on, his No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet was the class of the field, leading six times for 92 laps in winning for the fourth time at Atlanta and for the 71st time in his career.

For the second straight event in NASCAR’s premier series, Harvick and Dale Earnhardt Jr. finished second and third, respectively. Logano ran fourth, followed by Matt Kenseth, who capitalized on a late track-position play by staying out on old tires.

Johnson surged into the lead after a restart on Lap 305, starting fourth and charging past three drivers—Kenseth, Clint Bowyer and Brett Moffitt—who had stayed out under caution for Cole Whitt’s blown engine.

After Johnson took the top spot, a massive nine-car wreck in Turn 3 on the restart lap slowed the field for the 10th time. NASCAR red-flagged the race for 9 minutes, 1 second, after which Johnson led the field to a restart on Lap 312, with Kenseth beside him in the outside lane.

Johnson parried a bid for the lead from Earnhardt and quickly pulled away, ultimately crossing the finish line 1.802 seconds ahead of Harvick, who passed Earnhardt for the runner-up spot on Lap 319.

Martin Truex Jr., AJ Allmendinger, Moffitt, Brad Keselowski and Ryan Newman completed the top 10. Moffitt was driving the No. 55 Michael Waltrip Racing Toyota in lieu of Brian Vickers, who is recovering from offseason heart surgery. Vickers is scheduled to return to action next weekend at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

Before he could get to the front of the field, Johnson had obstacles to overcome. Along with 12 other cars, the No. 48 Chevrolet didn’t get through pre-qualifying inspection on Friday in time to post a speed in time trials. Consequently, the six-time premier series champion started 37th on Sunday.

The starting position toward the back of the grid also meant an awkward pit stall selection in front of Carl Edwards and behind Joe Nemechek. Johnson lost positions on pit road until Nemechek fell off the lead lap and the No. 48 Chevrolet got past Edwards’ No. 19 Toyota on the race track.

“We had a great race car, and unfortunately the way qualifying went (Friday), we didn't have a good pit stall pick, and it took us a long time to get in front of the No. 19 (Edwards),” Johnson said. “Once we did that, we were able to utilize our awesome pit crew; get the stops done and race for the win and get the job done today.

“Just very, very thankful. They (the team) surprised me today. We weren't that good (Saturday in practice), and they really dug deep and figured out what I needed in this race car and gave me an awesome Lowe's Chevrolet.”

With the victory, Johnson is all but assured of remaining the only driver to have qualified for every Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup since the inception of the playoff format in 2004.

“I think it is pretty much a lock, as long as we have a smooth season,” Johnson said. “I think if we win a second one, it is definitely a lock. But this takes a ton of pressure off.”

Harvick qualified second but started from the rear after blowing an engine in Saturday’s practice and replacing it. With a banzai run to the front of the field, however, Harvick took the lead for the first time on Lap 87 and held the top spot six times for a race-high 116 laps.

But Harvick lost track position when he spun his tires in the outside lane on a Lap 257 restart and never got back to the lead. The coup de grace to the reigning series champion’s chances came on the Lap 305 restart when he was trapped behind Moffitt in the inside lane.

“I had one bad restart there where I spun the tires on the outside, and we just never recovered from that one,” Harvick said. “And then we got behind the No. 55 (Moffitt) when he was kind of shooting for the moon there to go on the restart—and he just didn’t go.

“And then we got passed again. But, all in all, it was a great day.”

Notes: The race produced 28 lead changes among 12 different drivers, though Johnson, Harvick and Logano combined to lead 292 of 325 laps… For the second straight week, Jeff Gordon was the victim of a late wreck; he finished 41st… Logano leads Johnson by one point in the series standings. Harvick is two points back in third, with Earnhardt four behind in fourth.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Matt Crafton annihilates the field in dominant Atlanta truck win

Matt Crafton annihilates the field in dominant Atlanta truck win

Feb. 28, 2015

By Reid Spencer
NASCAR Wire Service

HAMPTON, Ga.—There's no letup in Matt Crafton.

The two-time defending NASCAR Camping World Truck Series champion, Crafton charged to the front from his 15th-place starting position and ran away from the rest of the field in Saturday's Hyundai Construction Equipment 200 at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

At the end of a 74-lap green flag run—the longest in NCWTS history at Atlanta—Crafton crossed the finish line 8.752 seconds ahead of runner-up Ty Dillon. Keystone Light Polesitter Ben Kennedy came home third, a distant 10.275 seconds behind the race winner.

Daniel Suarez finished fourth, followed by Tyler Reddick, last week’s winner at Daytona.

The victory was the sixth of Crafton’s career and his first at Atlanta, though four of his six wins have come at intermediate speedways—Charlotte, Kansas, Texas and Atlanta.

Despite a lackluster qualifying effort, it didn’t take Crafton long to realize he had the field covered with his No. 88 ThorSport Racing Toyota.

“I was really, really disappointed in qualifying, but (my truck) didn’t have a lot of single-lap speed by itself,” Crafton said. “But I knew, once they dropped the green and this thing took off and it ran three laps, I’m like, ’We’ve got something for these boys—they’re in trouble.’”

Crafton won the race in his 14th start at the 1.54-mile speedway.

“This is my favorite race track, by far,” Crafton said. “You can search, and you can move around so much. Now that I’ve got this win, it’s an amazing feeling.”

A key to Crafton’s victory was the ability to adapt to changing tracks condition, as the race moved from daylight to dark.

“We just tried to stay ahead of it,” Crafton said. “We knew when the sun started going down that the track was going to change quite a bit. I have had that racing experience before and gotten really, really free at night.

“We just kept tinkering away at it, tinkering away at it… we made all the right adjustments.”

Indeed. All told, Crafton led 85 laps, including the final 72 after surging past Suarez to take the top spot for good on Lap 59.

Notes: Brad Keselowski originally was awarded the pole, but a review of timing and scoring confirmed that his No. 29 Ford had not reached the start/finish line in time to begin a qualifying lap in the final round of knockout time trials.

In fact, Kennedy was the only driver to post a bona fide lap in the third round, and he was awarded the pole after Keselowski’s time was disallowed. Keselowski started 10th and finished 15th in his own truck…

Crafton’s margin of victory is the 10th largest in NCWTS history.

Harvick holds off Logano to win third straight NASCAR XFINITY race in Atlanta

Harvick holds off Logano to win third straight NASCAR XFINITY race in Atlanta

Feb. 28, 2015

By Reid Spencer
NASCAR Wire Service

HAMPTON, Ga.—If you had to pick one driver to knock Joey Logano off his pedestal at Atlanta Motor Speedway, you couldn't make a better choice than Kevin Harvick.

Holding off Logano after a restart on Lap 140 of 163, Harvick won Saturday's Hisense 250 NASCAR XFINITY Series race, ending a success streak that saw Logano beat Harvick for the win in the Daytona 500 and edge Harvick for the Coors Light Pole for Sunday's NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 (1 p.m. ET on FOX) at AMS.

The victory was Harvick’s third straight at Atlanta and fourth overall. He won for the 45th time in the XFINITY Series, third most all-time. It was also the first victory for Dave Elenz as a crew chief.

After Logano developed a left rear wheel vibration during the final run, Harvick pulled away and crossed the finish line 1.208 seconds ahead of Logano, who finished second at Atlanta for the second straight season.

Ty Dillon came home third, followed by Chris Buescher and defending series champion Chase Elliott, who pushed Harvick ahead of Logano on the Lap 140 restart.

“I knew I needed to take off,” Harvick said of the final run. “I thought his car was a little bit better as we got to about lap 20 (of a fuel run). He started reeling us in from that point on.

“All in all, these guys on this Bad Boy Buggies Chevrolet did a great job today. Awesome pit stops all day long, and we were able to make up some ground on that last pit stop (under caution on Lap 136).”

Logano had to cope with the outside lane on the final restart, after Harvick chose the inside as the prerogative of the leader.

“We got beat off pit road, but we had a decent restart from the outside lane—the outside is so tough—I thought if I could get door-to-door with him and get him loose underneath me, but the 9 (Elliott) was able to push him out ahead.

“At that point, I was just trying to move around, different lanes, trying to find something for some speed. I was starting to catch him, and then I just had this huge vibration. At that point, I was just trying to survive and hoping the left rear didn’t pass me.”

Logano started from the pole and dominated the race until the first round of green-flag pit stops. Bringing the No. 22 Ford to pit road as the lead on Lap 50, Logano had issues on the right front and spent a couple of extra seconds in his stall.

Logano’s issues played into the hands of Harvick, who had entered pit road three laps earlier running five seconds behind Logano. But Harvick’s three-lap advantage on new tires, coupled with Logano’s snafu on pit road, put the No. 88 Chevrolet out front when the round of pit stops cycled through.

Harvick maintained the top spot, with Logano in pursuit roughly one second behind, until NASCAR called the second caution of the race, for debris in Turn 3 on Lap 86, just in time for the nine cars on the lead lap to come to pit road for four new tires and fuel.

Harvick surged ahead from the top lane after the subsequently restart on Lap 91 and quickly rebuilt his one-second lead over Logano.

Logano, however, soon began chipping away at Harvick’s lead, first by hundredths of a second, later by tenths. On Lap 126, Logano drove high into Turn 1, gained momentum and pulled up near Harvick’s bumper as the cars completed the circuit.

Harvick took the high line into the first corner on Lap 127, but Logano steered to the inside and made the pass for the lead off Turn 2.

But fluid on the backstretch slowed the field for the third time on lap 134, and Harvick beat Logano off pit road and retook the lead after yellow-flag stops on Lap 136.

“That pit stop is what won this race,” Harvick said. “Joey probably had a better car the second half of the run. It really played out for us there at the end, as we were able to have that short run and take off.”

Gordon receives gifts from Atlanta Motor Speedway

Jeff Gordon gets a special gift from AMS's president Ed Clark.(Harold Hinson Photo)
Gordon receives gifts from Atlanta Motor Speedway: "Jeff you're going to be receiving quite a few things this year, I'm sure, as people pay tribute to you," track president and general manager Ed Clark said. "Atlanta has a special bond with Jeff Gordon. He started here and some of the most memorable moments in Atlanta Motor Speedway have involved Jeff. He's had five wins and celebrated four championships here. He's a real ambassador for the sport and someone we're all real proud to have been able to work with. You're not going anywhere, so this isn't a goodbye, but we have two things we want to present to you." The first was a framed replica of this year's souvenir program featuring Gordon signed by the entire full-time track staff. The big unveiling, literally, was a maroon and yellow bandolero for Gordon's kids, Ella and Leo. "Leo is going to want to sleep in this," Gordon said on inspection. "I have a feeling this might end up in his bedroom for a year or two before he can drive it. But that's awesome. I was watching practice for XFINITY earlier and I saw the 'Thanks 24' out there in the grass. It put a big smile on my face. You're right, it's a very special place to me." Gordon said he'd never forget his first race - or his first driver's meeting at Atlanta. His first race was Richard Petty's last and the King gave all the drivers a money clip with their starting position on it. Which Gordon still has. "I wasn't that proud of (my starting position) at the moment," Gordon said with a chuckle. "I think we started 21st. But I'll remember that forever."(AMS)(2-28-2015)