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Sixteen years later, Kevin Harvick still looking for second Atlanta Cup win

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Kevin Harvick has won a lot in the 22 years since he first began competing in NASCAR.

In all three national series, Harvick has accumulated 95 wins and two championships. But the win that will likely define his career long after it’s over is his first Cup Series win, at Atlanta Motor Speedway in March 2001.

Making his third start in the No. 29 car for Richard Childress Racing, Harvick was the driver who replaced Dale Earnhardt after his death in a crash on the last lap of the Daytona 500 the previous month.

The rookie from Bakersfield, California, fended of Jeff Gordon to win a photo finish by .006 seconds.

Sixteen years later, it remains Harvick’s only Cup win at the 1.5-mile facility, which is statistically his worst track.

“You can’t ever win the first one twice,”  Harvick said in a team release. “To come back here and know everything that was attached to that first win is something you look back on and realize the magnitude of the situation. I guess the second thing is I can’t believe we haven’t won there since.”

Harvick, now in this fourth season with Stewart-Haas Racing, returns to Atlanta this weekend for the Folds of Honor Quik Trip 500. It will be his 27th Cup start at the track where he got his first of 35 Cup Series wins.

Following his win in 2001, Harvick has only earned five more top-five finishes, with two coming since 2012. He also has 11 top 10s. After the initial win, Harvick failed to finished better than 19th in 11 of his next 12 Atlanta starts.

In his three starts since joining SHR, Harvick has results of 19th, second and sixth. In all 26 starts, he has an average finish of 17.6, which is his worst among active tracks on the Cup circuit.

“It’s definitely one of my favorite racetracks and we’ve led a ton of laps there,” said Harvick, who has led 679 laps at Atlanta. “For whatever reason, on Sundays, we haven’t been able to put the finishing touches on it. Fridays and Saturdays in the Truck Series and the Xfinity Series, we’ve won a ton of races but, hopefully, we can end that Cup Series streak this weekend.”

In the Xfinity and Camping World Truck Series, Harvick has earned five wins at the track. He won three straight Xfinity races from 2013-15.

This weekend will mark the final race on the track before its first repaving since 1997.

“I just love the abrasiveness of the racetrack,” Harvick said. “It still has a lot of speed for the first three or four laps, but then it has a lot of fall-off and a lot of bumps that give it character. As a driver, you just love the challenge that comes with racing at Atlanta. This is always one that I circle on my calendar as a favorite.”

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NASCAR America: Is there cause for concern with Jimmie Johnson’s performance thus far?

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It’s no secret that Jimmie Johnson is off to a slow start in 2017.

The defending and seven-time NASCAR Cup champion has a starting average of 21.8 and a finishing average of 18.8 in the first five races of this season.

He has just one top-10 finish (ninth at Phoenix), along with 34th at Daytona, 19th at Atlanta, 11th at Las Vegas and 21st Sunday at Fontana.

And let’s not forget he’s 17th in the NASCAR Cup standings heading to one of his strongest tracks, Martinsville Speedway, this Sunday.

On Monday’s edition of NASCAR America, we discussed this: After such a slow start to the season, is there a cause for concern over Johnson’s performance?

NASCAR America: Mark Martin is definitely a Kyle Larson fan

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On Monday’s edition of NASCAR America, NASCAR Hall of Famer Mark Martin shared his experience of racing in his home state of Arkansas, as well as the excitement he feels watching  Kyle Larson compete in the Cup series.

NASCAR America: Kyle Larson involved in minor fender bender while leaving Fontana

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Kyle Larson‘s spectacular weekend at Auto Club Speedway — winning both Saturday’s Xfinity Series race and Sunday’s Auto Club 400 NASCAR Cup event — left him feeling good.

But shortly upon exiting the facility, Larson and several others were involved in a fender-bender right outside the Speedway. Larson was a passenger, not the driver.

No one was injured, Larson tweeted.

But somehow, isn’t that strange fate?

NASCAR America: Kyle Larson’s Fontana win shows continued maturing as a driver

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Kyle Larson finally broke his streak of three straight runner-up finishes with his win in Sunday’s Auto Club 400 at Auto Club Speedway.

On Monday’s edition of NASCAR America, the crew discussed his win as well as his maturation as a driver.