How the Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 played out Sunday at Atlanta Motor Speedway:
WINNER: Brad Keselowski was stricken with a stomach illness over the weekend that minimized his practice runs and required IV fluids Sunday morning. But that didn’t prevent the Team Penske driver from earning his 28th career Cup victory in the Series’ first race with the new 2019 rules package.
“”This is one I’m not going to forget for a really long time,” Keselowski said in victory lane. “This day — I’m not even sure how to put it into words.
“I’m just excited for this team, first race with the new rules or whatever they’re called now, and to be able to win it, that’s really special, as well, and I know everybody here is excited about that, and just a great day overall for Team Penske and our Ford Mustang.”
Keselowski, who said before the race he had lost 6 pounds while fighting off the bug, held off Martin Truex Jr. in the closing laps after taking the lead from teammate Joey Logano with 27 laps to go to win for the second time at Atlanta. It was also Keselowski’s 60th overall win in the top three NASCAR Series with Team Penske, making him the organization’s most successful driver.
“Any win means a lot, but that’s a big number,” said Keselowski, who passed Mark Donohue’s 59 wins across multiple racing series with Penske.
Kurt Busch finished third, Kevin Harvick fourth and Clint Bowyer fifth. Kyle Busch came home sixth, Erik Jones seventh, Aric Almirola eighth, Chris Buescher ninth and Daniel Suarez 10th.
PIT-ROAD CRASH: For the second week in a row cars wrecked on pit road. Ryan Preece rammed into the back of BJ McLeod while trying to enter his pit stall during green-flag pit stops. With fluid spilling on pit road, officials waved the yellow flag with 52 laps to go. Preece, a rookie with JTG Daugherty Racing, had been running in the top 10 but the damage to his No. 47 Chevrolet ended his day.
FIRST YELLOW: The initial caution for cause during the competition came during the middle of Stage 3 when Kyle Busch cut a right-rear tire and tapped the wall on lap 222 of a scheduled 325. Busch, who was running fourth at the time, managed to get his car to pit road for repairs and his Joe Gibbs Racing No. 18 crew was quick enough to keep him on the lead lap. Daniel Suarez got the free pass. Kyle Larson who had led 142 laps, the most in the race to that point, came off pit road first but was penalized for speeding and was forced to restart at the end of the lead-lap cars.
STAGE 2: Kevin Harvick passed Larson, who lad led 48 laps in the segment, with eight laps to go to claim the second stage and the playoff point. Harvick won 19 stages last year while winning eight races overall. Martin Truex Jr. finished third, Ryan Blaney fourth and Denny Hamlin fifth. Joey Logano, Kurt Busch, Erik Jones, Kyle Busch and Clint Bowyer rounded out the top 10.
STAGE 1: Larson led 49 of 85 laps in the opening segment to earn the Stage 1 win and a playoff point. Harvick finished second, followed by Aric Almirola, Kurt Busch and Truex. Blaney, Logano, Hamlin, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Bowyer rounded out the top 10. Almirola then incurred a speeding penalty for entering pit road too fast and was forced to restart at the tail end of the longest line.
COMPETITION CAUTION: NASCAR threw the yellow flag after 35 laps for a planned competition caution following rain on Saturday. Almirola, who started on the pole and led all but one of the first 35 laps, lost the lead on pit road when Larson beat him on exit.
BACKUP PLAN: Kyle Busch, who qualified on the third row, was sent to the rear after moving to a backup car following a practice crash on Saturday. Busch, who did not take any laps in the backup car, has won twice in the past after dropping to the back but never in a backup car.
Follow Horrow on Twitter @EllenJHorrow