Kevin Harvick ran away with the final stage of the Folds of Honor QuickTrip 500 race Sunday evening to claim his second win of the 2020 season and his third career Cup win at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
"This place is pretty special just because of the fact that this is where I got my first win," Harvick said. "For me, coming back here, it brings back a lot of memories."
Harvick's first win at the Atlanta track came in 2001, three races after he replaced the late Dale Earnhardt after the Cup driver was killed in a last-lap accident at the Daytona 500 that year. Just as he did in 2001, Harvick held three fingers out the window and drove a lap in the opposite direction to honor Earnhardt on Sunday.
"This is just a track I've taken a liking to," Harvick said on the FOX broadcast after his 51st Cup Series race win, which puts the driver ahead of Junior Johnson and Ned Jarrett on the list of all-time race winners.
Harvick also further climbed the 2020 points ladder, which he has dominated this season, after leading the most laps (151) of the 325-lap race and finishing in the top five in the first two stages.
Although during the race Harvick said he struggled with his Ford Mustang, he said his team was able to make the necessary adjustments before the final stage, allowing him to jump ahead on the restart and sail to Victory Lane.
TRUEX JR. GETS EARLY LEAD
But Harvick still finished behind No. 19 driver Truex Jr. in Stages 1 and 2. Truex Jr. was sixth in the points leading up to Atlanta and didn't have a top-five finish prior to dominating Sunday's race. He finished in third place behind Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Kyle Busch in second.
"We were really strong the first two stages and I was really happy with the car," Truex Jr. said after the race. "We just got too tight there at the start of stage three (and) made some adjustments on the pit stop. It just wasn't enough."
Truex Jr. started 11th and led 65 laps, the second-most laps led behind Harvick.
JGR DRIVERS PULLING AHEAD
In addition to Truex Jr. and Busch, JGR's Denny Hamlin notched another top-five finish. The No. 11 driver finished in fifth place behind Team Penske's Ryan Blaney. After Bristol last weekend, JGR is showing its strength.
"Atlanta and Homestead are pretty significant high downforce tracks and we tend to run well here," Busch said about his Toyota teammates after the race. "Truex definitely tends to run well here. He did last year, and I think Denny has won here a couple times, so it's a place that we should have good results at."
Busch called it a "good, solid run" for his No. 18 team.
"Hopefully we can keep that momentum rolling," Busch said after the race.
BOWYER'S SEASON STARTING STRONG
After a second-place finish last week at Bristol, Clint Bowyer had a solid showing at Atlanta. Bowyer finished in the top-10 in the first stage and was able to jump to the lead off the restart in stage two, passing then-leader Truex Jr. Trouble with his right rear tire, however, forced the No. 14 driver to to pit with the green flag out, but he was able to briefly reclaim the lead in the second stage.
But tires continued to be a problem for Bowyer. With under 15 laps to go, the Ford Mustang driver was again forced to pit under green for his right rear tire. By that point, Bowyer didn't have a chance to get back to the top-10. He finished 20th. Still, Bowyer led 58 laps and finished in the top-10 in the first two stages.
BIGGER THAN RACING
A different type of "race" was NASCAR's focus before the Sunday Cup event kicked off. NASCAR president Steve Phelps addressed those standing at the track and the FOX broadcast audience about the protests raging across the nation in response to recent instances of racial injustice and police brutality.
"Our country is in pain and people are justifiably angry demanding to be heard," Phelps said. "The Black community and all people of color have suffered in our country and it has taken far too long to hear their demands for change."
"Our sport must do better," Phelps continued. "Our country must do better."
In addition to Phelps' message, FOX NASCAR aired a video in which Cup Series drivers participated in a shared message of empathy and support for the African-American community. After the race, seven-time Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson shared that he, Ty Dillon and Bubba Wallace initiated the idea for a group video.
"We have a big group chat that all the drivers are on, and that's how NASCAR communicates to us on the race weekends, during rain delays, any type of messaging, updates to the schedule," Johnson said. "So a conversation started in there that I joined, and definitely had a calling and wanted to (create the video)."
"Those conversations made sense to a lot of the other drivers, and we were very unified in that thought process," Johnson said.
Bubba Wallace, the only African-American driver in NASCAR's top series, wore a t-shirt with the words "I Can't Breathe" #BlackLivesMatter printed on it before the race started.
After the race, Wallace sat on the ground next to his car. He said that he felt lightheaded after standing up and that he fainted, then appeared to nearly faint again while speaking with FOX Sports for a post-race interview. Wallace was taken to the infield care center alert and on a stretcher, and was released about an hour later, according to NASCAR. He later tweeted that he was "good."