By Reid Spencer
NASCAR Wire Service
CONCORD, N.C. – Kevin Harvick may have won the pole for Saturday night’s Bank of America 500 at Charlotte Motor Speedway (7 p.m. ET on NBC), but Alex Bowman continued to open eyes as a substitute driver in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.
Touring the 1.5-mile speedway in 27.547 seconds (196.029 mph), Harvick knocked Bowman (196.000 mph) off the pole by a scant .004 seconds in the final round of Thursday evening’s knockout qualifying.
The pole was Harvick’s first at Charlotte, his first of the 2016 season and the 16th of his career.
“It was good in (Turns) 1 and 2, but I felt like I gave up a little something in (Turns) 3 and 4 coming to the checkered,” Harvick said of his lap in the money round. “This has just been a fun car to drive today. Hopefully we can get it dialed in race trim.”
Where Harvick gave up speed in the final two corners, Bowman likely lost the pole in the first two turns, where he drifted up the track slightly and scrubbed off just enough speed to fall short of Harvick by the minute fraction of a second.
Nevertheless, driving in place of Dale Earnhardt Jr. in six of the last seven races of the season while Earnhardt recovers from a concussion, Bowman stole the show.
“The Showman Bowman was fast tonight,” Earnhardt tweeted after the final round. Great job @AlexBRacing and @AxaltaRacing gang. P2 @CLTMotorSpdwy.”
Bowman, the fastest of the non-Chase drivers in time trials, recently posted his career-best NASCAR Sprint Cup Series finish, a 10th at Chicagoland Speedway. Though Bowman continues to show excellent speed as a substitute, he has no definite plans for next year.
But he came tantalizingly close to a monumental achievement on Thursday night.
“Honestly, we didn’t put the greatest lap together,” said Bowman, who ran the fastest lap of the day in the second round (196.200 mph). “In (Turns) 1 and 2, we were a little free in (into the corner) and didn’t really keep it on the bottom like I needed to.
“Turns 3 and 4 were really good. It means so much for Hendrick Motorsports to take a chance on me for these races. I’m really thankful to be here. I hate that we didn’t get the pole. We were so close. It’s definitely my best starting spot by a bunch, but you’d always like that pole.”
Chase drivers claimed eight of the top-12 starting positions, with Chase Elliott qualifying third, Kyle Busch fourth, Martin Truex Jr., seventh, Carl Edwards eighth, Denny Hamlin ninth, Joey Logano 10th and Jimmie Johnson 11th.
Chase drivers Matt Kenseth (17th), Austin Dillon (19th), Brad Keselowski (20th) and Kurt Busch (23rd) failed to advance to the final round.
“I don’t think anybody knew that we could go as fast as Bowman went in that second round,” Edwards said. “That kind of raised the stakes for everyone.”
Notes: Danica Patrick will start 13th, her second-best effort this year after qualifying 11th at Sonoma in June. Patrick just missed advancing to the final round; Johnson edged her for the 12th and final position by .012 seconds… Hendrick Motorsports continued to show improved speed, putting all four of its cars in the top 12 (with Kasey Kahne in 12th joining Bowman, Elliott and Johnson). Hendrick-powered cars claimed four of the top five spots on the grid, with Harvick on the pole and Tony Stewart fifth.