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Kevin Harvick leads Stewart-Haas Racing to best result since last summer

Kevin Harvick found himself back in victory lane in Atlanta, 17 years after his first Cup Series win at the track, and says the best part was replicating his celebration which paid homage to Dale Earnhardt Sr.

It was a nice moment but it also is time for Stewart-Haas Racing to move on. Another race beckons.

Kevin Harvick’s victory, along with a third-place finish by Clint Bowyer and an eighth-place result by Kurt Busch marked the first time in 18 races — the equivalent of half a season — that Stewart-Haas Racing placed three cars in the top 10. The last time the organization did that was at New Hampshire in July when Harvick led the way with a fifth-place result.

Stewart-Haas Racing’s fourth car, driven by Aric Almirola, ran in the top 10 part of the day at Atlanta Motor Speedway before finishing 13th.

Sunday’s performance was quite an accomplishment for the Ford team in light of questions at the beginning of the season of how well such teams would do since they had the oldest body compared to rivals Toyota (updated last year) and Chevrolet (new car this year).

Greg Zipadelli, SHR’s vice president of competition, was pleased but also looking ahead to next weekend’s race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

“This is a place that’s all about grip, and drivers got to like it,’’ Zipadelli said of Atlanta. “By no means are we out of the woodwork. We’re headed to Vegas, which is a complete opposite type of a racetrack next week, so we’ll look at where we’re at and judge ourselves again next week. But awesome win. ‘’

Sunday was a good start. Harvick and Busch combined to lead 233 of the 325 laps (Harvick led a race-high 181 laps). Harvick won the opening stage and had Bowyer second, Almirola fifth and Busch eighth. In the second stage, Busch was second, Harvick fifth, Almirola eighth and Bowyer ninth.

“We unloaded with four fast cars, and we all worked together really well, and hopefully we’ll do the same thing in Vegas and be able to enjoy that same success,’’ Bowyer said.

It’s also not surprising the success Stewart-Haas Racing had with its experienced driver lineup. The top eight finishers all have raced full-time in Cup at least eight seasons entering this year.

“There’s no coincidence,’’ Harvick said.“You know, this is a race track that takes a lot of experience, and there’s a lot of things that you have to know about your car and know about the race track to get the car around the race track. This is where experience pays off at these types of race tracks for sure.’’

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