Ste­wart-Haas Rac­ing looks to con­tinue its run

The Washington Post Sunday - - SCOREBOARD - NASCAR

hamp­ton, ga. — So much for a tran­si­tion pe­riod at Ste­wartHaas Rac­ing.

The NASCAR team hasn’t slowed since switch­ing from Chevro­let to Ford. Kurt Busch cap­tured the sea­son-open­ing Day­tona 500, and Kevin Har­vick fol­lowed up by earn­ing the pole for to­day’s NASCAR Cup Se­ries race at At­lanta Mo­tor Speed­way.

“Hope­fully this is the start of some­thing great,” Har­vick said.

There was plenty of spec­u­la­tion about how the change would go, es­pe­cially for a driver such as Har­vick who had a long re­la­tion­ship with Chevro­let.

Turns out, he had no trou­ble get­ting back up to speed.

“It’s fun to open Pan­dora’s box,” Har­vick said. “You have to turn ev­ery leaf over and look at ev­ery­thing in your com­pany. Ev­ery­thing is dif­fer­ent from top to bot­tom. But one thing that stayed con­sis­tent was very good peo­ple. It’s been fun to see a group of peo­ple come to­gether and try to make things bet­ter. It’s a ma­jor un­der­tak­ing to do what we did.”

Busch is still sa­vor­ing the high from his Day­tona vic­tory.

It may take a while to come down.

“You take it all in. You ab­sorb it,” Busch said. “Years ago, when I won the [2004] championship, you look at it and you think, ‘Aww, man, this is a lot that goes along with it.’ And maybe I didn’t soak it all in. This time around, my phone is still 400 texts deep. I can’t get caught up.”

While Ste­wart-Haas is show­ing early dom­i­nance, don’t for­get about seven-time Cup cham­pion Jim­mie John­son.

He’s the two-time de­fend­ing race win­ner in At­lanta.

“It’s been a great track for me,” John­son said. “The last two races we won here, we didn’t re­ally get our­selves sit­u­ated un­til late in the go­ing. But able to come out on top. Just be­cause you have a slow Fri­day or a slow start to the race, I don’t think you can count any­body out. We have a lot of chances to work on the car and make big stuff hap­pen here, which is re­ally neat.”

To­day’s sched­uled 325-lap race on the 1.54-mile tri-oval track will be the fi­nal race on the ag­ing asphalt at At­lanta Mo­tor Speed­way.

The track will get a new sur­face be­fore the 2018 event — much to the cha­grin of driv­ers such as John­son, who rel­ished the chance to wres­tle with his car on a high-speed track that is es­pe­cially hard on tires.

“This track is so fun and so in­ter­est­ing and so chal­leng­ing,” said John­son, whose 80 ca­reer vic­to­ries in­clude five wins at At­lanta. “I hate that it’s our last run on this asphalt.”

Der­rike Cope, 58, will make his first Cup ap­pear­ance in nearly eight years.

The 1990 Day­tona 500 cham­pion is rac­ing the No. 55 car for low-bud­get Premium Mo­tor­sports, the start of what he hopes will be at least a lim­ited sched­ule this sea­son.

Cope failed to pass in­spec­tion in time to go through qual­i­fy­ing, along with four other cars, but no one had to worry about be­ing sent home; there were only 39 en­tries for the 40-car field.

Cope’s last Cup race was a start-and-park ef­fort at Martinsville on March 29, 2009.

Kyle Busch is Xfin­ity win­ner

Kyle Busch won the NASCAR Xfin­ity Se­ries race at At­lanta Mo­tor Speed­way for the sec­ond year in a row Satur­day.

With a help­ing hand from lapped cars, pole-win­ner Busch was able to hold off Brad Ke­selowski by 0.606 sec­onds.

No one else was within two sec­onds of the win­ner.

Ke­selowski won the first 40lap stage, Kevin Har­vick took the next 40-lap phase, and Busch was lead­ing at the end — a promis­ing start to a busy week­end in At­lanta, where he is com­pet­ing in all three of NASCAR’s top se­ries. Af­ter cel­e­brat­ing in Vic­tory Lane and a brief stop in the me­dia cen­ter, he hus­tled back to pit road for the Truck Se­ries race.

On Sun­day, Busch will on the in­side of the sec­ond row in the NASCAR Cup Se­ries race.

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