KANSAS CITY, Kan. – Kevin Harvick has been the dominant force in Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series racing this season.
In knockout qualifying on Friday at Kansas Speedway, the driver of the No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford showed no sign of relinquishing his grip on NASCAR’s foremost series.
Harvick navigated the 1.5-mile speedway in 28.600 seconds (188.811 mph) in the final round of time trials to win the top starting spot for Saturday’s KC Masterpiece 400 (8 p.m. ET on FS1, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).
The Busch Pole Award was a record fourth for Harvick at Kansas, his second of the season and the 23rd of his career.
“This has been a really good place for us through the years, and obviously, when you look at qualifying day, it’s one of those places that fits what we do,” said Harvick, who has a series-best four victories to his credit this season, including last Sunday’s win at Dover.
“It’s been an entertaining day. We’ve had a lot of things to work through today (during practice and inspection), but it’s one of those days when you look at the team and go, ‘Man, those guys are really good at what they do.’ Nobody panics, and it really shows the experience and the patience that all those guys have.”
Harvick edged Ryan Blaney (187.826 mph) for the top spot on the grid by .015 seconds. Kyle Busch (187.552 mph) qualified third, followed by Aric Almirola (187.428 mph) and Brad Keselowski (186.748 mph).
Blaney had the fastest lap of the day in the first round (189.043 mph) but said the handling of his No. 12 Team Penske Ford tightened up in the second and third rounds.
Denny Hamlin, Martin Truex Jr., Kurt Busch, Joey Logano and Chris Buescher completed the top 10. Buescher was the only Chevrolet driver to advance to the final round, as Fords took seven of the top 12 spots and Toyotas accounted for four.
Buescher claimed his best starting spot since qualifying ninth last year at Sonoma Raceway.
“I’m proud of the effort,” Buescher said. “Our Camaro ZL1 was good all three runs. We didn’t lose a bunch of speed throughout the whole thing, and I’m proud of that. It’s the second best start I’ve ever had in the Cup Series. That’s pretty awesome as well.”
In the second round, Kyle Larson, one of the favorites for the pole, spun off Turn 4 and flat-spotted his tires. Larson failed to post a time in the round and earned the 22nd starting position, but the No. 42 will drop to the rear for the start of the race if the team opts to change tires.
“I was pretty tight that run, and I just got tight getting into the top there and got up in the marbles and got loose,” said Larson, who grazed the outside wall with his No. 42 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet. “I’m just thankful I didn’t get too much damage on our First Data Chevy.
“I haven’t looked at it, but it appears really minor. Wish I wouldn’t have done that because I feel like we had a shot at the pole.”
Seven-time series champion Jimmie Johnson’s No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet made it through pre-qualifying inspection just in time to make a first-round qualifying run. But Johnson will start 23rd after opting not to make a run in the second round.
Jamie McMurray, the last driver to qualify in Round 1 after inspection issues, will start 24th after his car failed to fire for the second round.
The No. 14 Ford of local favorite Clint Bowyer failed to advance through inspection in time to qualify, sending Bowyer to the rear for the start of the race. Likewise, Matt Kenseth will start from the back of the field in his return to competition with Roush Fenway Racing, with his No. 6 Ford also failing to pass inspection. The rest who will start at the back of the field after failing to post a time: Kasey Kahne, Michael McDowell, Matt DiBenedetto and Timmy Hill.
Contributing: Staff reports