A two-panel image of Denny Hamlin and Kevin Harvick.
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Harvick vs. Hamlin: How an extra pit stop by No. 4 team led to Atlanta win

Last year’s Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race at Atlanta Motor Speedway came down to a battle between Kevin Harvick and 2019 Daytona 500 champion Denny Hamlin.

The two swapped the lead six times over the final 110 laps, but it was Harvick who led the final 25 circuits to earn his second career race victory at the 1.54-mile oval, while Hamlin faded to finish fourth

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Diving into the numbers, it appears a pit-stop strategy gave Harvick’s No. 4 team the edge over Hamlin’s No. 11 squad. In a breakdown of a 122-lap run from Lap 178-299, Harvick actually pitted on four occasions, compared to Hamlin’s three trips down pit road.

While Hamlin’s fall off in lap times over the course of his three green-flag cycles was less severe than Harvick’s fall off during four cycles, Harvick’s overall average lap time was 32.681 seconds, while Hamlin averaged 33.025 seconds over the 122 circuits.

MORE: Most all-time laps led at track

The difference? The .34-second advantage in average lap time for Harvick at the notoriously tire-important Atlanta track was worth over 41 seconds total, allowing him to jump ahead of Hamlin follow the final round of pit stops on Lap 300.

Factoring in Atlanta’s old, abrasive track surface, Harvick ran four separate green flag cycles of 34, 39, 34 and 11 laps, respectively. Hamlin’s green-flag cycles included a pair of 47-laps runs during Lap 178-274 and a 25-lap run from Lap 275-299. While Hamlin was on track with older tires for a longer duration, Harvick was able to make up ground by taking advantage of fresh tires from pitting an extra time.

Below is the full breakdown of how green-flag cycles shook out between Harvick and Hamlin:

Kevin Harvick’s green flag cycles

Pitted Laps No. of laps Avg. lap time Fall off
213 178-213 34 32.644 2.832
253 214-253 39 32.793 2.039
288 254-288 34 32.724 1.74
300 289-299 11 32.564 1.522
Total 178-299 122 32.681

Denny Hamlin’s green flag cycles

Pitted Laps No. of laps Avg. lap time Fall off
226 178-226 47 33.137 2.677
274 227-274 47 33.197 1.547
300 275-299 25 32.74 1.316
Total 178-299 122 33.025

Clearly, pit strategy will be very important at Atlanta, something all teams will keep in mind ahead of Sunday’s Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 (2 p.m. ET, FOX, PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).