Clinton, South Carolina, Monday, February 26, 2018, 9:59 a.m.
Sometimes a race is exciting. Sometimes it’s interesting. Races that are neither exciting nor interesting are rare, not to mention monotonous.
The Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 was interesting for a variety of reasons. Thanks to Kevin Harvick’s domination, it wasn’t particularly exciting. As I’m fond of noting, every race cannot be a classic. If so, there would be no need for the term.
That Harvick ran away with it was not unusual. The 42-year-old veteran has won 38 times in a career spanning 612 races over 18 years. He has won twice at Atlanta Motor Speedway. The first was in his second start. The second was in his 612th. Harvick dominated the same race a year earlier, but Brad Keselowski wound up winning it. Harvick, like most of NASCAR’s better drivers, has dominated many races he didn’t wind up winning. It happened to Ryan Blaney a week earlier.
The race flew in the face of most of the items receiving major off-season attention. The rage of NASCAR is the rise of young drivers and the departure of old ones. The top eight Atlanta finishers were drivers with at least eight years of experience. The sensations of the Daytona 500, winner Austin Dillon and runner-up Darrell Wallace, retreated into Atlanta anonymity.
A general consensus over the winter was that Fords would struggle. They seemed stuck in place. Toyota was the top manufacturer in 2017. Chevrolet debuted a new Camaro variation as its Monster Energy Cup model and won the Daytona 500 in its maiden voyage.
Fords dominated the Daytona 500 but did not manage to win it. Just a week later, their drivers finished 1-2-3 — Harvick, Keselowski and Clint Bowyer — and took five of the top 10 spots. The familiar Fusion has been strong.
At Atlanta, a track with time-worn pavement and a premium on fresh tires, Harvick could have been driving a model of his own. For almost the entire race, he was clearly the fastest driver in the fastest car. This may change and probably will next week, even though Las Vegas Motor Speedway is superficially similar.
“This is a place that’s all about grip, and driver’s got to like it,” Greg Zipadelli, Stewart-Haas Racing’s vice president for competition, said afterward. “By no means are we out of the woodwork (Zippy probably meant to say ‘woods’). We’re headed to Vegas, which is a complete opposite type of a race track next week, so we’ll look at where we’re at and judge ourselves again next week.”
Las Vegas has a track similar to Atlanta’s (or Hampton’s) in most respects, but Harvick’s overwhelming victory suggests that “mile-and-a-half track with old pavement” is an informal phylum in the taxonomic classification of such edifices. LVMS doesn’t look as if logging trucks run it on weekdays. “Complete opposite” is a bit of a stretch, but winners are often prone to hyperbole amidst the thrill of being one.
“You know, this is a race track that takes a lot of experience,” Harvick said, “and there’s a lot of things that you have to know about your car and know about the race track to get the car around the race track. This is where experience pays off at these types of race tracks, for sure.”
The standings said, and I quote, “duh.”
Because tires wear out so quickly, most drivers run a high groove through the turns because it requires a lower level of adhesion than skidding controllably along the bottom. It’s faster down there, but Harvick has some mystical knack for conserving his rubber at the same time he theoretically should be grinding it away. It’s not unprecedented for veterans. It’s almost unprecedented for young hotshots who haven’t gotten the benefit of lessons that cannot be adequately learned in simulations. They all know how to go fast. Harvick knows how to stay fast.
Fords dominated. It didn’t rain. Experience ruled. Variety isn’t just the spice of life. It helps when it’s the spice of NASCAR.
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