Kevin Harvick does a a burnout after winning the NSCAR Xfinity series auto race at Atlanta Motor Speedway in Hampton, Ga., on Saturday, Feb. 24, 2018. (Paul Abell/Associated Press)
HAMPTON, Ga. — For Joey Logano, the final 4-second margin behind Kevin Harvick felt more like a full lap.
Harvick led 141 of 163 laps Saturday for his fifth NASCAR Xfinity series victory at Atlanta Motor Speedway and fourth in the last six years.
Logano finished second, ahead of Christopher Bell, who started on the pole. They were the only other drivers to lead laps.
Almost from the very start, the race belonged to Harvick.
“I don’t think we were even close,” Logano said. “Kevin played with us all race long.”
Added Bell: “You’re supposed to be struggling but he (Logano) was struggling a little bit less and Harvick was struggling a lot less. That’s the gap we’ve got to make up.”
Harvick started fifth but quickly moved to the lead while winning each of the first two stages.
“That was a lot of fun to be a part of,” he said.
He also won the 2009 and 2013-2015 Atlanta Xfinity races before Kyle Busch won the last two years.
Harvick served as Bell’s escort, guiding him around the 1.54-mile track through most of the second half of the race. Bell remained within a few seconds of Harvick’s Ford but couldn’t seriously challenge. Logano passed Bell for second with five laps remaining.
It was only the latest show of dominance by Harvick in Atlanta. In last season’s Monster Energy Cup race, Harvick led 292 laps before finishing ninth after being hurt by a pit road speeding penalty. Harvick finished fourth in Atlanta’s 2017 Xfinity race.
“We were frustrated here last year,” Harvick said. “We didn’t leave here with a trophy either day and that’s always our goal. … I felt bad that we didn’t do that last year but this is a great way to start off this year.”
Harvick will start fourth in Sunday’s Cup race. He’ll be in a different car, but he said the Xfinity experience will help him prepare for what he described as a “rhythm race track.”
From the view of Harvick’s rivals, he was in a rhythm of his own in his 98 Ford.
“I can’t really figure out why Kevin is so good here,” Logano said. “It doesn’t seem to really matter what car he’s in. He’s just good.
“Christopher and I had a good race. I wish it were for the win.”
Rookie John Hunter Nemechek, the son of former driver Joe Nemechek, was fourth. The younger Nemechek is a full-time driver on the NASCAR Truck series.
“I had an open mindset coming into this weekend,” Nemechek said. “… I didn’t know where we were going to stack up in qualifying. I didn’t know where we were going to stack up in the race. It was a good learning curve.”
Elliott Sadler finished fifth.
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