HAMPTON, Ga. — Ricky Stenhouse Jr. stole a win and Kevin Harvick thinks it was stolen from him.
The aftermath of Saturday night’s NRA 300 at Atlanta Motor Speedway has dealt more with a water bottle-throwing incident, which had nothing to do with the outcome, rather than the timely move by Stenhouse to win his fourth NASCAR Nationwide Series race of the season.
Harvick completely dominated the field, at one point holding a 15-second lead, but two late cautions left him vulnerable on restarts and Stenhouse capitalized with a last-lap pass for the win.
“Heck yeah, we stole it. We’ve had a few stolen from us, so you go out and get as many as you can, any way that you can,” Stenhouse said.
“It was good, hard, clean racing and I’m glad that we could put on a show for the fans because it really wasn’t a show up until that point. It was a great night and fun racing with Kevin there.”
Stenhouse left Atlanta second in points, trailing Elliott Sadler by 12 with nine races remaining.
Early in the summer, Stenhouse was almost 30 points behind the leader but steadily has made up ground.
“I think all of the race tracks that we have left are ones that we run really strong on, but the problem is (Sadler) runs really strong on them as well,” Stenhouse said. “I don’t think either one of us really has an advantage as far as the race tracks go.”
Even though Brad Keselowski finished second in the race, it was Harvick – who ended up third – who felt he had lost the most.
Harvick led 157 of the 195 laps and still had a big lead on Lap 183, when NASCAR threw a caution for debris in Turn 1.
Under caution, ESPN repeatedly showed footage of Keselowski throwing a water bottle out of his car, but the network confirmed after the race the footage was not live.
ESPN did show footage of the debris which caused the caution, but by that time most viewers, fans and even Harvick were under the impression the water bottle caused the caution.
Two laps after the restart, a four-car wreck brought out a red-flag period, which likely hurt Harvick’s chances on the final restart.
When Harvick confronted Keselowski on pit road after the race, and again when the two sat side-by-side inside the media center later, the water bottle became the topic of discussion.
Even after NASCAR and ESPN both said the water bottle was not the cause, Harvick remained defiant.
“The caution came out when the water bottle went out the window, so (NASCAR) can say what they want,” Harvick said. “They throw cautions when they want to, and (Saturday night) they threw it and got what they wanted.”