LAS VEGAS – Kevin Harvick may not have had the fastest car based on single-lap speed on Friday at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, but that didn’t stop him from earning the pole for the Pennzoil 400 anyway.
Harvick turned a lap of 29.914 seconds (180.517 mph) with his No. 4 Jimmy John’s Ford Mustang, holding true to the chain’s moniker of “Freaky Fast” and leading the pack during Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series qualifying.
The three-round knockout session was the first time teams have qualified under NASCAR’s new aerodynamic package for this season, with drag ducts creating a bigger wake behind cars and allowing the trailing driver to suck up easier to those ahead of him.
As such, that meant that the top 12 drivers waited until the last seconds of the final, five-minute round before heading onto the racing surface to make their runs, making for an unusual session.
“It’s definitely different. It’s one of those situations where you don’t really know where you need to be,” said Harvick. “I had never drafted, really, in these cars. They’re a lot faster than they were in the All-Star Race (last year), and the closing rate was so fast.
“We were able to run the bottom coming to the start of the second lap (in the final round), and that got us to the start/finish line in time to make it (before time expired),” Harvick added. “There was definitely a little bit of luck involved there, but the guys have done a great job, really advancing in the last two weeks in getting what we need in these race cars.”
Friday’s effort was Harvick’s first pole of the year, first at Las Vegas and the 26th of his Cup Series career.
Daytona 500 champion Denny Hamlin will join Harvick on the front row, after a lap of 29.924 seconds (180.457 mph) in his No. 11 FedEx Toyota, while Kyle Busch starts third (30.049/179.706) in the No. 18 M&M’s Chocolate Bar Toyota.
Alongside Busch is the car that Harvick believes was actually the fastest in qualifying trim, the No. 3 Dow Chevrolet of Austin Dillon.
“The fastest car in qualifying trim is fourth,” said Harvick. “I told them before we qualified today that the fastest car would not get the pole today. In the final round, it was going to come down to where you were at (in line).”
Unfortunately for Dillon and his Richard Childress Racing teammate Daniel Hemric, who timed in fifth-quick, they just weren’t in the right spot in line.
“I figured we had the fastest car. I just hate that we couldn’t stick to our plan that we had beforehand,” noted Dillon, who will start fourth on Sunday. “We knew we had the fastest cars and we gave up a pole because of it. We just didn’t work together as a team as well as we needed to. I hate that, but we will hopefully learn from it because I’m really proud of these guys. It sucks when you have the two fastest cars and you qualify fourth and fifth with them.
“I didn’t think anybody had anything for us, but plans changed right before the end.”
David Ragan, Kyle Larson, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Jimmie Johnson, Joey Logano, Alex Bowman and Chase Elliott completed the top 12 and all advanced through each of the three knockout rounds on Friday.
To view the complete starting grid, advance to the next page.