Kevin Harvick turned a lap at 190.398 mph in the final round of qualifying for Sunday’s Oral-B USA 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway to win his sixth pole of the season and the 12th of his career.
Since moving from Richard Childress Racing to the No. 4 at Stewart-Haas Racing at the beginning of the season, Harvick has been fast nearly every week since teaming up with crew chief Rodney Childers.
The team has two wins this season, and most believe they would have had more if not for some miscues on pit stops and other failings that often come when a new team takes to the track.
Harvick acknowledged that his qualifying success this year is somewhat of a surprise.
“It’s obviously not something I’ve done in my career,” he said.
He also said he has a good feeling about the way his car will perform once the green flag drops on Sunday night.
“We ran about 18 laps in race trim [Friday],” he said. “I feel like the car is comfortable. The main thing I want in a car here is to be able to drive it lap after lap and have it do the same thing.”
Brad Keselowski put his No. 2 Team Penske Ford on the outside of the front row for his 10th front-row start of the season.
Rookie Kyle Larson will start third ahead of Ryan Newman and Matt Kenseth, putting three winless drivers locked in a battle for one of the final Chase berths all in the top five for Sunday’s race.
Harvick’s teammate and co-car-owner Tony Stewart had a successful return to Sprint Cup competition for the first time since the Aug. 9 sprint car racing incident that led to the death of driver Kevin Ward Jr. after he was struck by Stewart’s car.
Stewart, driving the No. 14 Chevrolet for the first time since Aug. 3 at Pocono Raceway, advanced through all three rounds of knock-out qualifying to take the 12th starting spot.
Georgia drivers had mixed results in qualifying. One-time Alpharetta resident Joey Logano, a winner last week at Bristol Motor Speedway, will start 14th in the No. 22 Ford, while Unadilla’s David Ragan is set to line up 38th.
Peachtree City’s Reed Sorenson was the slowest of the 44 drivers in the opening round of knock-out qualifying, but his results could be a bit deceiving. While other drivers ran anywhere from one to three laps, he ran 11.
With conditions in qualifying similar to what they’ll be in Sunday’s race, the information his No. 36 Chevrolet team learned should be worth more than a starting spot closer to the front. Sorenson, who will start 43rd, was in no danger of missing the race because his Tommy Baldwin team is high enough in points to be assured of a starting spot no matter how he fared in time trials.
“We left the car in race trim and tried to learn what the track was going to do at nighttime,” Sorenson said. “In daytime practice, you just have to guess about what the track is going to do as far as changes in rear grip and front grip.
“We did learn something about the balance of the car that will help us Sunday night.”
The one car that missed the race was the No. 95 Ford of Michael McDowell, whose Leavine family racing team is 42nd in car owner points, too low to overcome his slow qualifying run.
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