By Reid Spencer
NASCAR Wire Service
RICHMOND, Va. – With rain threatening to fall at Richmond International Raceway, NASCAR Sprint Cup Series drivers put extra effort into Friday morning’s opening practice.
The effort paid off for 2014 series champion Kevin Harvick, who was fastest in practice at 129.089 mph and consequently will start on the pole in Sunday’s Toyota Owners 400 at the .75-mile short track (1 p.m. ET on FOX).
With the field ordered by practice speeds according to the Sprint Cup rule book, Joey Logano (128.694 mph) will start second, followed by Jimmie Johnson (128.187 mph), Carl Edwards (128.181 mph) and Denny Hamlin (128.156 mph).
Brad Keselowski, Kurt Busch, Kasey Kahne, Kyle Busch and AJ Allmendinger filled positions six through 10 on the grid, respectively.
Coming to Richmond with an average starting position of 11.1 through the first eight Sprint Cup races this season, and knowing rain was likely in the afternoon, Harvick and crew chief Rodney Childers developed a game plan based on Harvick’s right to be first on track for practice as the current series leader.
“We had decided to come into the weekend and approach qualifying a little bit different, with just the way the race tracks have been and the timing of the practices,” Harvick said. “We decided to go and take advantage of being the first car on the race track, which is usually a big advantage here when the track is green and doesn’t have a lot of rubber on it.
“It worked out today, and Rodney and everybody had a good plan, and it’s going to be interesting just for the fact that, the second and third times out, the times weren’t near what the first time was because the tires fall off – which is great.”
Logano’s team executed its plan to near-perfection.
“I feel like my team did a great job understanding the weather today before we hit the race track,” Logano said. “We went out there and made our qualifying run off the truck and then focused in on race trim, thinking that we weren’t going to be qualifying anyway. The plan was executed perfectly besides (being) second instead of first…
“It is important to start up front here. A lot of times you think about how this race runs, and it’s similar to Martinsville, and having track position allows you to be more conservative with your car and tires. If you’re are in the back you don’t have the opportunity to save anything. It is nice to start towards the front and get a good pit stall and hit this race hard and see what happens.”
Note: Cole Whitt failed to make the 40-car field because his No. 98 Chevrolet posted the slowest practice speed among cars required to qualify on time.