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Kevin Harvick pulls away for Atlanta win

Kevin Harvick (4) crosses the start finish line during the NASCAR Cup Series auto race at Atlanta Motor Speedway in Hampton, Ga., on Sunday, Feb. 25, 2018. (AP Photo/Paul Abell)

Kevin Harvick was, once again, the dominant driver at Atlanta Motor Speedway. Sunday, he got his first win in 17 years to show for it.

Harvick took the lead from Denny Hamlin with 35 laps to go and sprinted away from Brad Keselowski after a restart with 21 laps to go to win his second race at the track. Harvick’s first win at Atlanta came in 2001 in one of the most iconic finishes in modern NASCAR history when he beat Jeff Gordon to the finish line for Richard Childress Racing’s first victory since the death of Dale Earnhardt.

He hadn’t won at the track since.

It’s a staggering stat when you consider that Harvick had led over 100 laps in five of the previous six races at Atlanta. A year ago he led 292 of 325 laps before speeding on pit road late, handing the lead and the win over to Keselowski. He led 173 laps on Sunday.

Yeah, it’s redemption of sorts. Or, if you prefer, validation of Harvick’s success at the 1.5-mile track set to be repaved before the 2019 season.

“I’ve been waiting 17 years to get ready to do what I’m getting ready to do,” Harvick radioed to his crew after the race. He held three fingers up in honor of Earnhardt as he did his victory lap, much like he did in 2001 after beating Gordon.

The race was delayed approximately 90 minutes from its originally-scheduled start time because of rain. But the rain surprisingly dissipated and held off through the afternoon hours, allowing NASCAR enough time to get the entire 500-mile trek complete.

That worked out well for Harvick, who was on a third-stage pit strategy that was far different from Hamlin and Joey Logano. As the race’s final stage played out without any cautions, teams started to do the math with their speed and tire wear. Hamlin and Logano weren’t contenders for the win, so their teams decided to stretch fuel and pit one fewer time than the leaders like Harvick and Keselowski.

The strategy needed the race to go green the rest of the way to have a chance of working for the win. Though it didn’t come close with a caution for Trevor Bayne’s engine with 28 laps to go and the fact that Harvick’s ridiculously fast car passed Hamlin about two laps after his final pit stop.

“We got a late-race restart that we drove off and won the race with, so there are so many demons that seem to haunt us here for a long time, but the coolest part was being able to try to replicate that first win celebration,” Harvick said.

Hamlin ended up fourth behind Clint Bowyer, who was third. Martin Truex Jr. rounded out the top five.

The win means Harvick is heading to the playoffs in 2018, though that isn’t much of a surprise given his excellence ever since joining Stewart-Haas Racing. He’s won at least one race in each of the last nine seasons and now has 15 wins in four seasons and two races with SHR.

Here are the full results from Atlanta:

1. Kevin Harvick
2. Brad Keselowski
3. Clint Bowyer
4. Denny Hamlin
5. Martin Truex Jr.
6. Joey Logano
7. Kyle Busch
8. Kurt Busch
9. Kyle Larson
19. Chase Elliott
11. Erik Jones
12. Ryan Blaney
13. Aric Almirola
14. Austin Dillon
15. Daniel Suarez
16. Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
17. Paul Menard
18. William Byron
19. Jamie McMurray
20. Alex Bowman
21. Kasey Kahne
22. Ryan Newman
23. David Ragan
24. Michael McDowell
25. Chris Buescher
26. Ty Dillon
27. Jimmie Johnson
28. Cole Whitt
29. AJ Allmendinger
30. Ross Chastain
31. Matt DiBenedetto
32. Darrell Wallace Jr.
33. Harrison Rhodes
34. Jeffrey Earnhardt
35. Trevor Bayne
36. Gray Gaulding

 

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Nick Bromberg is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at nickbromberg@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!