It would be Aric Almirola taking the green flag and dominating the opening portions of the first stage at Atlanta. After surrendering the first lap led to Ricky Stenhouse Jr, Almirola took over and led the field by better than two seconds until the lap 35 competition cautions.
Kyle Busch, who started out back thanks to a practice crash, would move all the way up to 12th in that short distance.
Pit stops would shuffle the field, however, handing the lead to Kyle Larson. Kevin Harvick moved up to third, eventually climbing past Almirola for second during the second portion of stage one. He didn’t have anything for Larson, who won the first stage by four seconds.
Kevin Harvick, whose No. 4 team really struggled on pit road in 2018, won the race off pit road to start the second stage. After a dicey restart, the dust settled with Harvick and Martin Truex Jr. out front. Larson quickly battled back, taking the second spot back from Truex and quick set his sights on the lead.
Elsewhere, Ryan Blaney settled into the fourth position after starting 26th. Brad Keselowski moved up to 6th after starting 19th. Team Penske showed some decent speed after a disappointing qualifying attempt on Friday.
Aric Almirola gave up a top five spot, thanks to a pit road penalty at the end of stage one. Almirola came back to 14th, after restarting 27th.
27 laps in to stage two, Kyle Larson went back to the lead. Larson ran Harvick down from 1.2 seconds back, reclaiming the top spot and setting sail once again.
Pit stops would see Ricky Stenhouse Jr. speed on pit road and Brad Keselowski’s jack break, proving costly for each driver. Kyle Larson retained his lead off pit road, re-establishing a two second lead on Kevin Harvick.
Harvick would slowly begin to reel in Larson, planting his No. 4 machine on the bottom of the racetrack, as usual. Harvick turned a 2+ second lead into nothing, landing on Larson’s rear bumper with 25 to go in the stage.
The battle raged on for the next 15 laps, but eventually Larson gave way. The No. 42 got loose in turn four, opening the door for Harvick with eight to go in the stage. Harvick slid under for the lead, gapping Larson for the stage win.
Kevin Harvick won the battle off pit road, but Kyle Larson won the restart. Larson nailed the start up high — a rare feat this weekend at Atlanta. Harvick fell to fourth as his help behind battled for third. Clint Bowyer and Ryan Blaney tangled down the backstretch, allowing Larson and Martin Truex Jr. to get away.
A new player entered the fold for the first time all day — Kyle Busch. The No. 18 nailed a restart up high, settling into the third position. But that wouldn’t last long. A cut tire would send Busch into the fence lightly, bringing out the caution.
Kevin Harvick took the lead on pit road following a Larson speeding penalty. But Ryan Blaney didn’t let that last long, taking the lead with 95 laps to go. Harvick faded to fourth, allowing Truex and Logano around him. Harvick struggled on the short run all day and that reared its head once again here.
Larson was moved back to 22nd because of the penalty, finding it tough to move forward as others had for much of the day.
The mover early in this stage proved to be Brad Keselowski. The 2012 NASCAR champion maneuvered his way past Kevin Harvick and Joey Logano to move up to third with just under 75 laps to go.
Pit stops would shake up the field shortly after, though. BJ McLeod and Ryan Preece made contact on pit road, ending Preece’s day. That brought out a caution with 51 laps to go, mixing up the pecking order.
Joey Logano assumed the lead, with Kurt Busch and Brad Keselowski following. Keselowski, who missed practice on Saturday with the flu, proved to be the best car down the stretch. He ran Logano down in the final stretch, passing his teammate for the lead — and ultimately the win.
Martin Truex Jr. ran Keselowski down, but couldn’t do anything with him. Kurt Busch brought it home third, followed by Harvick and Bowyer.
Daniel Hemric, Ryan Blaney and Joey Logano saw good runs go down the drain in the final run, forced to pit due to vibrations and shredded tires. Hemric gave up fifth to pit for a tire that was coming apart, ending up 20th on the day. Blaney ended up 22nd with Logano 23rd, after both led laps.