Harvick, who was dominant Saturday in winning the second-tier Xfinity event, started fourth in the Cup race and quickly proved he had the car to beat.
Harvick was comfortably in the lead when Trevor Bayne’s engine blew with 28 laps to go. The restart gave contenders a chance to grab the lead, but Harvick beat Keselowski to remain in control.
“What a relief,” Harvick told his crew after crossing the finish line. He led 292 laps in Atlanta last year before finishing ninth following a pit road speeding penalty.
The start was delayed 2 hours, 30 minutes by rain. The threat of more rain added urgency in the late battle for the lead. There were reports of drops of rain with more than 130 laps remaining, leading to increased concerns the race could end early.
Clint Bowyer was third, followed by Denny Hamlin.
Harvick quickly moved from 19th back to the lead following a green flag pit stop early in the race and again quickly moved back to the lead following a pit stop on lap 252.
He took the lead following a competition caution on lap 30 and stayed in front to take the first stage win. Harvick’s crew had difficulty during his pit stop following the first stage, and he had lost ground when he returned to the pit.
Harvick was 19th following the unscheduled pit stop and returned to the lead on lap 131 before Brad Keselowski won stage 2.
Harvick’s No. 4 Ford has become a familiar figure in the lead at Atlanta. He led 141 of 163 laps Saturday for his Xfinity win after his strong performance in last year’s Cup race.
Despite that recent dominance, this was only Harvick’s second Cup win in Atlanta. He also won in 2001, giving the Richard Childress team a win following the death of Dale Earnhardt in Daytona a few weeks earlier. Harvick was given a new No. 29 in Earnhardt’s car. Following the win, Harvick held three fingers out of the window in tribute to Earnhardt.
Harvick duplicated that three-finger salute after Sunday’s win.
Rookie Darrell “Bubba” Wallace Jr., coming off a second-place finish at last week’s Daytona 500, finished 32nd. Wallace was the first black driver in the Daytona 500 field since 1969, and he became the first black Cup racer in an Atlanta race since Bill Lester finished 38th in 2006.
Martin Truex Jr., the 2017 series champion, started 35th after failing to qualify on Saturday but was up to fourth by the 12th lap before finishing fifth.
Jimmie Johnson, who won in Atlanta in 2015 and 2016, finished 27th. There were no wrecks but there was a caution after Johnson’s spin in turn 2 on lap 160.
With no “open” cars, the 36-car field was NASCAR’s smallest since 1996. There were 40 cars in the Daytona field.