HAMPTON, Ga. — Kevin Harvick probably lost Sunday’s Folds Of Honor QuikTrip 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway by driving too fast.
It’s funny how that works in NASCAR.
Harvick was completely dominating the race — leading 292 laps — until he was caught speeding on pit road with 11 laps remaining.
The penalty for exceeding the 45 mph speed limit on Atlanta’s pit road shuffled Harvick to 18th place.
That allowed Brad Keselowski to happily step in and win. Harvick ended up ninth.
“I just made a mistake that I preach all the time that you don’t need to make — (don’t) beat yourself,” said Harvick, who had the final pit stall along the front stretch entering Turn 1. “Then you go out and make it yourself instead of following all the things you preach. That part is hard for me to swallow.”
For an accomplished, veteran driver like Harvick — who basically fired several pit-crew members last season because he thought they were underperforming — it was a stunning development.
Harvick had started the race and also won the first two stages. Everything pointed to another victory for Harvick and Stewart-Haas Racing — the team’s Kurt Busch won last week’s Daytona 500 — after switching manufacturers from Chevrolet to Ford in the offseason.
Then it all came apart when Harvick, whose pit stops had been flawless all afternoon, went too fast down pit lane.
“It’s my own doing,” Harvick said. “I really didn’t think I was even close on pit lane. It gets to bouncing around. I thought I was being conservative, apparently I wasn’t.”
The victory instead went to the opportunistic Keselowski, another Ford driver who passed Kyle Larson with seven laps remaining.
If Keselowski felt any pity for Harvick, he wasn’t saying.
“I hate when I lose that way,” Keselowski said. “It’s not fun. When you win that way, you take it and move on. It goes both ways.”
Keselowski had his own pit issues. He went back on the track at one point in the race with two loose lug nuts on the left rear tire of his No. 2 Ford.
Keselowski didn’t panic. Team owner Roger Penske said Keselowski told crew chief Paul Wolfe on the radio: “We’re all one team, we’re going to go here.”
“That’s the DNA of our team,” Penske said. “That’s what we have to be because you lose more than you win in this sport. So I think that makes you tougher and stronger.”
Keselowski worked his way back to the front of the field and started fourth — behind Larson — on the final restart.
“You have to put yourself in position,” Keselowski said. “I wouldn’t say a lot of things fell our way. We’ve had races where we led a bunch of laps and things fell apart at the end. That’s the way this sport works. You have to take advantage of the opportunity. And I wasn’t thinking about Kevin’s misfortune. Besides, we still had multiple cars we had to pass.”
Harvick wasn’t alone in his pit-road speeding problems. Twelve penalties for speeding were called, including two for Jimmie Johnson.
Keselowski wasn’t one of them. He said he knew what the speed limit was and pushed as close as he could to it.
“You don’t win when you leave a comfort zone in anything,” he said. “I can guarantee you anybody out there that wants to leave a comfort zone, I’m going to push harder than them and I’m going to beat them, and these guys know that.
“Everybody knows that. You’ve got to run right to the limit. Sometimes you’re going to go over. I thought a couple times I might have gone over. I knew it was close. But that’s what we do. That’s what makes us competitors, is trying to find every limit, every opportunity. The opportunity is at the margin and it’s at the limit.”