DARLINGTON, S.C. – Kevin Harvick picked up his first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series pole of the season Friday, securing the top spot during qualifying for the Bojangles’ Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway.
Harvick’s 26.802-second lap at 183.479 mph around the 1.366-mile oval in the final round of qualifying was enough to give him the top spot over Team Penske’s Joey Logano. The pole is the seventh in Harvick’s Sprint Cup career.
Since winning at Phoenix Int’l Raceway earlier this season Harvick and his No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing team finished 36th or worse in four out of five races, so the California native is hoping this is a sign of a turnaround for the team.
“I’ve just got to thank everybody on our Budweiser Chevrolet. They’ve dealt with a lot of adversity over the weeks and I just think this shows they have kept their focus and done what they have to do to keep putting good race cars on the track.
“You know when they qualify that good – I’m not the world’s greatest qualifier – that the car is pretty good,” Harvick said.
Aric Almirola, whose crew chief Trent Owens is a Darlington native, qualified third after setting the track record during the second round of qualifying. He’ll share the second row with Richard Petty Motorsports teammate Marcos Ambrose.
The rest of the top 12 in qualifying were Brad Keselowski, Jamie McMurray, Ryan Newman, Kyle Busch, Jeff Gordon, Denny Hamlin, Paul Menard and Martin Truex Jr.
Almirola’s track record lap of 26.703 seconds at 184.145 mph was enough for him to top the second round of qualifying. He was followed by Logano, McMurray, Harvick and Ambrose.
Among those failing to advance were Kurt Busch, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Carl Edwards, Greg Biffle, Kasey Kahne and Tony Stewart.
Menard topped the charts in the first qualifying session, leading the way at 26.734 seconds at 183.946 mph. He was followed by Hamlin, McMurray, Almirola and Kurt Busch.
Shockingly, defending Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson and defending Southern 500 race winner Matt Kenseth both failed to advance past the first round of qualifying. Kenseth will start 25th and Johnson will start 26th.
David Reutimann was the only driver who failed to qualify for Saturday’s race.