By Reid Spencer
NASCAR Wire Service
DOVER, Del. – A hard, steady rain at Dover International Speedway made Matt Kenseth’s life easier—and Kevin Harvick’s challenge even more difficult than it otherwise might have been.
With a massive East Coast storm forcing cancellation of all of Friday’s track activity at the Monster Mile, including NASCAR Sprint Cup Series qualifying, Kenseth will start on the pole for Sunday’s AAA 400, the elimination race for the Challenger Round of the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup (2:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN).
The series leader, Kenseth already has earned a spot in the Chase’s Contender Round by virtue of last Sunday’s victory at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
On the other hand, with the field ordered by owner points according to rainout rules, Harvick will start 15th in a race he almost certainly must win to keep his hopes of winning back-to-back series championships alive.
After an early wreck and a 42nd-place finish in the Chase opener at Chicagoland Speedway, Harvick ran out of fuel while leading with three laps left at New Hampshire and finished 21st, leaving him 23 points out of 12th place in the standings, the last transfer position for the next round.
Even though the rain put him on the pole, Kenseth would have preferred to have practiced on Friday, especially in light of the suspension issues that relegated him to a 39th-place finish in the May 31 event at Dover.
“I think we all would have liked to get on the track today and get some practice,” Kenseth said on Friday at Dover. “I know there are some things we wanted to work on and try to improve from the spring for this race.
“I think everybody wanted to get on the track. I think it’s one of the advantages of leading the points – obviously, if it rains, you get a good starting spot and pit stall. Glad we’re starting in the front, but still would have liked the track time.”
The qualifying cancellation means the 16 Chase drivers will start from the top 16 positions on the grid. Denny Hamlin, who punched his ticket to the Contender Round with a win at Chicagoland, will start on the front row beside his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate.
Carl Edwards, Joey Logano and Jimmie Johnson are third through fifth on the grid, respectively, for Sunday’s race. “Bubble” drivers Jamie McMurray, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kyle Busch and Paul Menard, all of whom are within a two-point range in the standings, will start 11th through 14th, respectively.
“We’ll be ready; we’ll be prepared and we won’t start as far forward as we have here in years past,” said Busch, who blew a right front tire at New Hampshire, crashed and finished 37th. “Typically we’re a top-five qualifier. … We’ll make do.”
Busch feels his team’s level of readiness coming to the track this season will stand him in good stead.
“I think, for my guys, we’ve been really, really good this year of unloading and having some strong cars and some good speed right off the truck,” Busch said. “I’d actually look forward to no practice time here. I think that would be really good for the 18 team.”