ATLANTA (CNN) — Maybe the thieves didn’t know what they were stealing.
A NASCAR Sprint Cup car stolen from outside the hotel where the team was staying turned up on a rural Georgia road Saturday — the day before the scheduled race at Atlanta Motor Speedway, but not in time for the team to qualify.
The No. 44 Chevrolet was in a 26-foot trailer, which was hitched to a pickup truck that was stolen early Friday morning from the hotel in Morrow, Georgia, according to its owner, Team Xtreme Racing.
The car normally travels in an 18-wheeler, but the hauler arrived at the Speedway early to escape bad weather back in Charlotte, North Carolina, the team said. The car remained behind for some minor work, said the team and driver Travis Kvapil.
“It wasn’t quite ready to go to the racetrack yet,” Kvapil told CNN on Saturday. “The guys had to continue to do some more work on it at the shop, so they stayed back with the car and then just sent it down a day later with the truck and smaller trailer and parked it in the hotel parking lot.”
The trailer with car inside arrived at the hotel Thursday night at 11 p.m. and hotel surveillance video shows the theft occurred at 5:32 a.m. Friday, the team said.
“I bet when whoever has it, opens the trailer and is going to be like ‘oh snap’,” Kvapil tweeted Friday.
Early Saturday, the team tweeted photos of the recovered orange and blue car, in the dark on the side of a road. The Chevrolet was found by itself, minus the truck and trailer, in Loganville, about 50 miles northeast of Atlanta Motor Speedway, the team wrote in a series of tweets Saturday.
The spare motor and extra parts that had been with the car were not found, the team wrote.
It meant the team had to withdraw the car from Sunday’s Folds of Honor QuickTrip 500, which was going to be the first Sprint Cup start of the season for Kvapil.
“The biggest thing is, we found that racecar,” Kvapil said. “It’s a small team and this (would have been) a big setback for us if that was missing. It was enough of a setback as it was, not being able to qualify and run the race at Atlanta Motor Speedway this weekend.”
Kvapil said he is “really thankful and happy for all the guys who worked so hard on this car. They put a lot of hours into it, and it would have been a real shame if it was gone.”
“While this is obviously a setback for this weekend, our plans remain to compete in the 2015 NASCAR Sprint Cup season,” team owner John Cohen said after the theft.
The next race in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season is March 8 at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway.