For Kevin Harvick, it was love at first sight – and race – at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
He won his first-ever Cup race there in 2001 after replacing the late Dale Earnhardt in the renumbered No. 29 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet.
Sixteen years and 26 races later, Harvick is still waiting to get back to victory lane at the challenging 1.54-mile oval. He’s had a pair of runner-up finishes (2009 and 2015), but once again came up short Sunday.
Harvick dominated the Folds Of Honor QuikTrip 500 at AMS, leading 292 of the 325 scheduled laps.
But one mistake turned out to be a huge error and wound up costing Harvick the win.
With 15 laps left in the race, the driver of the No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford Fusion was caught speeding on pit road.
End result, Harvick was busted back in the field, rebounded slightly but could never get past ninth place, where he ultimately finished at.
“I was going too fast on pit road, apparently,” Harvick told Fox Sports after the race. “I really hate it for everyone on the Jimmy Johns Ford. They put a great car under me and did everything we thought we needed to do.
“I knew I had to be close to pit road speed because we were having trouble getting out of the (pit) box, but I didn’t think I was pushing it that close.
“But it gets to bouncing there and you don’t know where you’re at and that’s why there’s so many pit road speed penalties here and you have to run it close. I was too fast.”
Harvick’s 292 laps led was a single-race record at AMS – for leading the most laps and failing to seal the deal with a win. It was also the fourth consecutive race at Atlanta that Harvick has led the most laps (led 131 last year) and still lost.
That’s 734 laps led out of 1,315 laps contested at AMS since 2014.
But there’s more: it was the 20th time in Harvick’s last 110 NASCAR Cup starts that he has led the most laps (not including races he won) and came up short of victory lane.
Break that down even more and in the 38 NASCAR Cup races since the start of 2016, Harvick has led the most laps in seven of those – and yet failed to win: Atlanta, Fontana, Dover, Kentucky, Darlington in 2016 and Daytona and Atlanta thus far in 2017.
Even though Harvick loves AMS, it’s apparent that the track doesn’t have the same regard for him.
“This place, for whatever reason, I just feel like I’m snake-bitten,” Harvick said. “It’s my own doing today. I really didn’t think I was even close on pit lane.
“I thought I was being conservative; apparently I wasn’t. I was just pushing it too hard.”
Ironically, Harvick did exactly the same thing he has railed against his entire career.
“I just made a mistake that I preach all the time that you don’t need to make and beat yourself,” Harvick said. “And then you go out and make it yourself instead of following all the things you preach.
“That part is hard for me to follow. … Man, I just, one way or another, I have figured out how to lose races here at Atlanta after being so dominant. We will pick ‘em up and start again next week.”
And likely be grateful that he won’t return to Atlanta for another 12 months.