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Kevin Harvick has no one to blame but himself at Atlanta

HAMPTON, Ga. -- The debate before the NASCAR Cup Series race Sunday at Atlanta Motor Speedway centered on the asphalt.

Would track ownership rip it up as planned after Sunday? Or would it try to keep this asphalt, already three years after its "best if used by" date and eke out more years while crossing fingers that no potholes develop?

A form of potholes did develop during the 325 laps Sunday. They came in the form of timing lines embedded in the pit road, which worked as designed to catch speeders -- tripping up driver after driver after driver. They don't damage the car, but they can certainly ruin a day.

Kevin Harvick had to swallow the biggest hit after leading 292 laps only to clip the last timing line too early on his final stop, being caught for speeding and sent to the rear of the field with 11 laps remaining.

Brad Keselowski was the beneficiary, the driver with the next-best car and who restarted second next to Kyle Larson. Keselowski easily passed Larson with six laps remaining to capture the win in the Folds of Honor 500.

The track, if it doesn't repave, could use a little bit of the good fortune that Keselowski had when Harvick became the 11th driver to get caught for exceeding the 45 mph limit (plus a 5 mph limit tolerance).

In fact, Keselowski said if this race occurred next year on a repaved track, he wouldn't win the race.

"If this track was repaved, I wouldn't have passed Kyle Larson for the win because the groove would have been too small, it would have been too easy for him to block my air," Keselowski said. "I wouldn't have been able to make it. ... Now, if you're a Kyle Larson fan, that means you're pretty upset the surface lasted.

"If you're a fan of passes for the lead at the end of a race, you should like tracks like this that have made it and survived as long as they have and opened up to multiple grooves, because I know I do."

The repave, though, might actually keep the drivers from speeding. They push it every time, and Harvick said he knew where the lines existed (teams get a map and the lines are clearly visible when walking on pit road). But the worn pit road and the way the cars launch out of the pit stall created a situation where a driver had to take a chance in speeding.

"It's really not the lines -- it's just you have to run it right on the speed," Harvick said. "It's bumpy more than anything. It gets to bouncing, and you hope it stays pretty consistent.

"Obviously today it didn't. I was too fast."

In the last four Atlanta races, Harvick has led 734 laps and come away with no wins.

"Man, I just, one way or another, I've figured out how to lose races here at Atlanta after being so dominant," Harvick said.

Keselowski tried to find a way to lose the race as well. He had to pit under green with a flat tire, and he had to pit twice under caution with about 60 laps remaining after the team felt it left a couple of lug nuts loose. The team likely could have gotten away with it from a NASCAR rules perspective because they would have changed tires again postrace.

"We were in a point where we felt like it was best just to come down and make sure they were tight, and we felt like there was still enough time to recover and give us our best finish," Keselowski's crew chief Paul Wolfe said.

The decision by Wolfe to pit could have cost Keselowski the race. Keselowski didn't argue with his crew chief on the radio. He had to trust that things would work out.

"When I thought I had a right front [tire] coming apart, I pitted and [Wolfe] didn't second‑guess me, and when he told me to pit because there was a lug nut loose, I pitted, and I didn't second‑guess him," Keselowski said. "I think that's the kind of relationship I hope to maintain with my team."

That lug nut error relegated Keselowski to 13th, and he needed Harvick to have his mistake to get in position for the win.

Harvick at least was in good company. Seven-time Cup champion Jimmie Johnson sped twice, as did former Cup champion Matt Kenseth. Then again, Derrike Cope got nailed for speeding, too.

"There's something that I think a lot of guys are kind of aware of what goes on, on pit road, and that's something we need to address kind of internally," said Johnson teammate Chase Elliott, who also was caught speeding. "I have a pretty good reasoning, and I think why it was, but I really don't want everybody else to know. ... I think it'll be corrected next week."

Elliott wouldn't say exactly why all the drivers were speeding on pit road, but he indicated it had to do with calculations or strategies to get right to the edge of the limit.

Harvick talked with his crew chief and his car owner after the race.

But really, the only person he needed to talk to was in the mirror. He knows he blew it.

"I just hate donking them like that and myself and making the petty mistakes that I preach all the time that you don't need to make and beat yourself, and then you go out and make it yourself instead of following all the things that you preach," Harvick said.

"That part is hard for me to swallow."

As Harvick walked back to his garage, Keselowski celebrated. He knew he had good fortune, and he knows how it felt for Harvick. Right place, right pavement, right time. Victory.

"I didn't really think about ... Kevin's misfortune," Keselowski said. "I thought about what can I do to get up there and have a shot at the best finish possible, and the doors opened up with making passes on the restart and getting by Kyle to do so.

"I hate when I lose that way, and it's not fun. And when you win that way, you just take it and you move on. It goes both ways."