NASCAR Barometer: Keselowski Overcomes Flu to Win in Atlanta

NASCAR Barometer: Keselowski Overcomes Flu to Win in Atlanta

This article is part of our NASCAR Barometer series.

Brad Keselowski took the checkered flag Sunday at Atlanta Motor Speedway despite missing much of the weekend's activities due to stomach flu. Each of the Penske Racing machines spent time at the front on Sunday, and the organization as a whole was on their game throughout the race on Sunday. Keselowski was the one who managed his tires the best in the closing laps, however. As he slowed to preserve his equipment, he gave Martin Truex Jr. a chance to close but held him off with relative ease as he became the second winner of this 2019 season.

This week, the series turns its attention to Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Teams will want to learn as much as they can with the new rules configuration, as this track appears in the playoffs as well. That fall return will be at night this year, though. Keselowski is the most recent winner at the circuit, but perennial favorite Kevin Harvick is the defending winner of this week's race.

UPGRADE

Brad Keselowski – Keselowski won Sunday's race in Atlanta despite suffering from the stomach flu and a late-race charge from Martin Truex Jr. Keselowski did not attend the prerace appearances after falling ill Friday night and even had a backup driver available should he have felt like he wouldn't be able to complete the full distance on Sunday. The adversity must have given him some inspiration because once he came to the front by passing teammate Joey Logano he simply managed the race

Brad Keselowski took the checkered flag Sunday at Atlanta Motor Speedway despite missing much of the weekend's activities due to stomach flu. Each of the Penske Racing machines spent time at the front on Sunday, and the organization as a whole was on their game throughout the race on Sunday. Keselowski was the one who managed his tires the best in the closing laps, however. As he slowed to preserve his equipment, he gave Martin Truex Jr. a chance to close but held him off with relative ease as he became the second winner of this 2019 season.

This week, the series turns its attention to Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Teams will want to learn as much as they can with the new rules configuration, as this track appears in the playoffs as well. That fall return will be at night this year, though. Keselowski is the most recent winner at the circuit, but perennial favorite Kevin Harvick is the defending winner of this week's race.

UPGRADE

Brad Keselowski – Keselowski won Sunday's race in Atlanta despite suffering from the stomach flu and a late-race charge from Martin Truex Jr. Keselowski did not attend the prerace appearances after falling ill Friday night and even had a backup driver available should he have felt like he wouldn't be able to complete the full distance on Sunday. The adversity must have given him some inspiration because once he came to the front by passing teammate Joey Logano he simply managed the race out front to the finish ahead of a charging Truex. NASCAR's new rules package should favor Keselowski's talents in the draft, and Sunday''s win might just be the preview of more to come. He hasn't finished out of the top 10 in Las Vegas since 2012.

Kevin Harvick – Harvick overcame steering issues in Friday's practice and qualifying to race to the front of the field and win the second segment of Sunday's race. Harvick didn't have a car fast enough to challenge for the lead in the final segment but had enough to drive his way to a strong top-five finish on Sunday. It was an impressive turnaround of fortune after he struggled so surprisingly with handling on Friday. Harvick has won two Las Vegas races but crashed out of last fall's race at the circuit after starting fifth. With five top-fives and eight top-10s from 19 career Las Vegas starts, it's hard to imagine Harvick not entering this weekend among the favorites to take the win.

Martin Truex Jr. – In just his second race as part of Joe Gibbs Racing, Truex started to achieve the results everyone expected. The closure of Furniture Row Racing didn't do much to stunt his progress, and Truex was in line for his first Atlanta victory in just his second start with the No. 19 on his roof. He pointed the finger at lapped cars after the finish and maybe could have had a bit more time to work on Keselowski if he had been able to move forward quicker. Still, a runner-up finish in his second outing with Gibbs is a remarkable achievement. Truex has one Las Vegas victory from 2017 and he finished in the top 15 there in the last seven races at the track.

Kyle Larson – Larson leveraged a strong qualifying position and a quick start to win the opening stage in Atlanta. Later on, a speeding penalty dropped him out of the top runners and deep into the pack in the final stage of the race. Once out of the top 10, he had a difficult time working his way back through the field. That mistake may have squandered a chance for a top finish, but Larson still managed to adjust his machine to work better in traffic in the final laps to finish 12th. In six Las Vegas starts, Larson has finished in the top 10 four times and has finished inside the top three in each of his last three starts at the track. He led 24 laps there in the fall last season.

DOWNGRADE

Daniel Hemric – Hemric gave up a confident top-10 finishing position due to a rear tire issue with less than 20 laps remaining in Sunday's race. The young rookie pieced together a great race but came up just a few miles short of an impressive finish. This rookie certainly looks to have all of the attributes necessary for success at this level, and with more races like he had in Atlanta, that success will come sooner rather than later. The Richard Childress Racing rookie has three Xfinity starts at Las Vegas with an average finish of 16th. His best result at the track came in the spring last year when he finished sixth. He learned a tough lesson last week in Atlanta, and fantasy owners will want to see how he responds this week in Las Vegas.

Kyle Busch – Busch's weekend didn't start in the best way after he crashed in practice and was forced into the backup car. He started from the rear of the field and worked his way forward throughout the race only to have trouble on the right rear. Ultimately, he had a flat tire, which brought out a caution and sent him to pit road. He was able to stay on the lead lap despite that trouble but may have done more without the stumble. The season hasn't started for Busch like he wanted despite the top-10 on Sunday, and he'll hope to right the ship as quickly as possible. He finished in the top 10 in both of last year's trips to Las Vegas but only has one win there from 2009.

Jimmie Johnson – Johnson struggled with his car in Sunday's race and ultimately fell a lap behind during the second segment. He spent much of the middle portion of Sunday's race running outside of the top 20 and fell multiple laps down to the leader by the time all of the miles had been run. A promising start in Daytona looks to have taken a step in the wrong direction in Atlanta. Johnson has four Las Vegas wins but the last came all the way back in 2010. He hasn't finished in the top 10 at the track since 2015. While he had that good start to the season in Daytona, more recent questions about his pace may have surfaced again in Atlanta.

Aric Almirola – Despite starting from pole and running up front for the entire first segment, Almirola fell from the front starting with a speeding penalty on pit road between the first and second segments of the race. He couldn't make a quick recovery and spent much of the second segment running outside of the top 15. He made some adjustments and was able to work his way forward a bit before the finish, but he would have been hoping for a mistake-free outing with a chance to race for the win. That didn't happen. Almirola has just two top-10 finishes in Las Vegas, but both came in his last two visits with Stewart-Haas Racing.

Ryan Preece – What had been shaping up to be a great afternoon for JTG Daugherty Racing with both cars running in the top 10 in the final stage turned to disappointment on pit road. Preece had completed his stop and was exiting pit road when he slammed into the back of B.J. McLeod as he was making his way into his pit box. It was a rookie mistake from Preece who admitted he was looking at his dash instead of looking out of the windshield. He gets a chance for redemption this week in Las Vegas, though. In two Xfinity starts at the track he has an average finish of 12th, with his best finish of sixth coming last fall.

BIGGEST SURPRISE(S)

Kurt Busch – Busch may not count as a surprise given his past record at Atlanta Motor Speedway, but the fact that he is in just his second race weekend with Chip Ganassi Racing illustrates how good last week was. Busch finished third, ahead of many of the early favorites for the race win. His new partnership is paying dividends early and continuing to race like he did on Sunday should lead the team back to Victory Lane soon. Busch has never won at his home track in Las Vegas, but this new team and rules package could boost him to his first top-10 at the circuit since he finished ninth in 2016.

Hendrick Motorsports – Having the fastest cars two weeks ago at Daytona International Speedway meant nothing for Hendrick Motorsports in Atlanta. Fantasy owners no doubt expected more from the organization after it swept the front row in qualifying two weeks ago. The teammates drove strongly in the 500 but struggled to make an impression in Atlanta. The highest finisher in the organization was Alex Bowman in 15th, and that is not what the team is aiming for. Fantasy owners should take caution when considering the Hendrick drivers this week in Las Vegas. Selections should only come if strong and consistent practice and qualifying showings come throughout the buildup to race day.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
C.J. Radune
Radune covers NASCAR, Formula 1 and soccer for RotoWire. He was named the Racing Writer of the Year by the Fantasy Sports Writers Association in 2012 and 2015.
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