Harvick Earns 5th Pole of Year, Breaks Track Record
BRISTOL, Tenn. - The qualifying record at Bristol Motor Speedway didn't stand a chance Friday.
A dozen drivers blitzed Denny Hamlin's old mark of 129.991 mph in qualifying for Saturday's Irwin Tools Night Race with Kevin Harvick leading the way.
The driver of the No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet collected his first career pole at the .533-mile oval and 11th of his NASCAR Sprint Cup Series career with a 131.362 mph lap in the final round of knockout qualifying.
"My guys have done a great job bringing fast cars every week," said Harvick, who has won a career-high five poles this season. "I knew we had a good car in practice and were able to get it pretty good in race trim. We really unloaded pretty good. Went into qualifying trim and felt like I didn't get everything I needed to on the lap that I had in practice. Went out and the balance was really good and were able to put down two solid laps and wound up with the pole. Any time you can beat the 24 right now things are going okay."
The No. 24 Chevrolet driven by Jeff Gordon will start alongside Harvick on the front row.
Gordon led the first qualifying segment with a lap of 130.637 mph and got a little more out of his car in the final round, going 131.290 mph. The four-time Sprint Cup champion is coming off a victory - his third this season - and leads the points standings.
"We were able to put up two really solid laps," said Gordon, a five-time winner at Bristol. "I thought we did it. I really did. I thought we had enough. That was a good lap. It just tells you how good of a lap Kevin had. It was close, but he did an awesome job. We're really proud of this effort to be on the front row."
Carl Edwards left Bristol Motor Speedway a winner in March, and will start on the second row in Saturday's after qualifying third at 131.209 mph in the No. 99 Roush Fenway Racing Ford.
"The track has a lot of grip and the car is extremely fast," Edwards said. "It was really a pretty fun lap. This is a really fun racetrack. I had a lot of fun here in the spring. Hopefully this starting spot helps us work toward our goal of winning another race here."
Rounding out the top 10 were Kyle Busch, Joey Logano, Jimmie Johnson, Kurt Busch, Greg Biffle, Brad Keselowski and Marcos Ambrose.
Defending race winner Matt Kenseth qualified 16th.
Rookies Kyle Larson and Cole Whitt ran into trouble in qualifying, as did Aric Almirola.
Larson had the fastest car in opening practice Friday but brushed the outside and inside walls in the first qualifying round. He will start 40th.
"I just got loose through the corner and thought I could save it, and probably just should have bailed," Larson said. "We got the wall and are probably going to a back-up car, so it sucks."
The qualifying snafu comes at a bad time for Larson, who must rebound from a 43rd place finish last weekend at Michigan to remain in Chase contention. He is winless and trails Biffle by 24 points for the 16th and final Chase spot with Kasey Kahne and Austin Dillon ahead of him.
Kahne qualified 12th and Dillon will start 26th.
The top line will be the preferred groove, drivers said Friday. But it's a fine line up top.
"It's just so fast and the line that you have to run to run fast is so easy to get out of the groove," Harvick said. "I think it's very hard to hit it right every time. I hope the race is really exciting tomorrow. We've had some exciting races here in the past. The difference from the bottom to the top is three-tenths of a second. You're going to have to be on top of the racetrack."