May 25, 2017
By Reid Spencer
NASCAR Wire Service
CONCORD, N.C. – After squeaking out the fastest lap in the second round of Thursday night’s knockout qualifying at Charlotte Motor Speedway, Kevin Harvick left no doubt when it counted.
Touring the 1.5-mile track in 27.918 seconds (193.424 mph) to post the fastest lap of the day in the final round, Harvick claimed his first Coors Light Pole Award for the Coca-Cola 600 and his second overall at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
The driver of the No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet will lead the field to green in NASCAR’s longest race on Sunday after beating second-place qualifier Kyle Busch (192.513 mph) by .132 seconds. The pole was Harvick’s third of the season, all having come at 1.5-mile intermediate tracks.
Fourteen of Harvick’s 20 career poles have come since he joined Stewart-Haas Racing in 2014, the season that also brought the 41-year-old from Bakersfield, Calif., his only Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series championship to date.
“It was a hairy lap,” admitted Harvick, who was sixth fastest in the first round but improved dramatically thereafter. “I just about spun out in (Turns) 1 and 2 and had to make some adjustments…
“Our cars have been fast this year. We’ve had a lot of speed. We just haven’t been able to put the weekend together. Overall, it shows that we’ve got performance right now, but (the Coke 600) is a long, long day. We’ve just got to put it all together.”
Chase Elliott qualified third as the only Chevrolet driver in the top 10. Matt Kenseth was fourth, followed by Sunoco rookie Erik Jones.
The winner of last Saturday’s Monster Energy All-Star Race, Busch will try on Sunday to become the eighth driver to complete the All-Star/600 double. Busch and his Joe Gibbs Racing teammates are still looking for their first victory in a points race this season.
But, in Busch’s view, things are looking up.
“It’s certainly nice to just have the speed right now,” he said. “It showed up when we unloaded it right off the truck. We were pretty quick the first session (of practice). Then guys kind of caught up to us a little bit through the practice.
“Shows that we’ve got performance right now, so we just got to put it all together. It’s a long, long day. Starting up front doesn’t necessarily mean anything right now. It’s just good for pit selection, obviously, and hopefully (crew chief) Adam (Stevens) and my boys, we can get it all tuned up tomorrow and get ready for a great 600 miles.”
Series leader Kyle Larson never got on track to make a qualifying run. His No. 42 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet bounced off the wall in Thursday’s opening practice, and repairs to the car impeded its progress through the inspection line.
Time ran out on the No. 42 before Larson could get the car to the grid. As a result, Larson will start 39th in the 40-car field.
“I guess it would be cooler to win from last than from the pole,” Larson said philosophically.