DARLINGTON, S.C. — Kevin Harvick became the eighth different pole winner in as many Sprint Cup Series races this season after posting the fastest lap in the final round of Friday’s knockout-style qualifying for the Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway.
Harvick, in his first season as driver of the No. 4 Chevrolet for Stewart-Haas Racing, turned a lap at 183.479 mph for his seventh career pole in the series, including his first in 18 races at this 1.366-mile, egg-shaped oval.
This season has started with seven different winners in the first seven races. Harvick won at Phoenix on March 2 but has finished outside the top-35 in four of the past five events. He placed 42nd in last Monday’s rain-delayed race at Texas due to engine failure on lap 29.
“The guys [No. 4 team] have done a great job, and they’ve dealt with a lot of adversity over the weeks,” said Harvick, who is now 26th in the point standings. “I think it just shows that they’ve kept their focus and have done what they had to do to keep putting good race cars on the track. I’m not the world’s greatest qualifier, but the car was that good.”
Harvick’s best finish at Darlington is second, which came in August 2003.
Joey Logano, who won at Texas, grabbed the outside pole with his lap at 183.049 mph.
“This is such a fast racetrack,” Logano said. “Qualifying is probably the most fun thing we do all weekend here. You’re just so on edge. If you make a little mistake, you’re in the wall. If you go a little too careful, you probably didn’t go fast enough. There’s such a fine line of going fast here.”
Richard Petty Motorsports teammates Aric Almirola and Marcos Ambrose qualified third and fourth, respectively. Almirola set a new track qualifying record during round 2 in qualifying with a lap at 184.145 mph, which easily surpassed Kurt Busch’s previous track record of 181.918 mph, set last year.
It’s the sixth time this year a new track qualifying record has been set.
Brad Keselowski grabbed the fifth spot, followed by Jamie McMurray, Ryan Newman, Kyle Busch, Jeff Gordon and Denny Hamlin.
Matt Kenseth, who won last year’s race at Darlington, failed to advance into round 2 by just 0.007 seconds. Kenseth will start 25th, one spot ahead of Jimmie Johnson, the six-time and defending Sprint Cup champion. Johnson claimed his second Southern 500 victory two years ago.
Neither Kenseth nor Johnson has yet to win a race this season.
David Reutimann was the only driver who failed to qualify for Saturday’s 500- mile event at Darlington, which is scheduled to start shortly after 3:30 p.m.