KANSAS CITY, Kan. Kevin Harvick has never been known as a great qualifier.
But seven years between poles is still a long time.
“I really wish he still didn’t have a pole so I could have another one,” said rookie Ricky Stenhouse Jr., who qualified second-fastest Friday.
Harvick, however, will lead the field to the green flag in Sunday’s Hollywood Casino 400 at Kansas Speedway – an honor that no Sprint Cup driver has accomplished at Richard Childress Racing since the 2007 season.
“When you win that few poles, you remember everything that happened those days,” said Harvick, who won after his most-recent pole, at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in September 2006.
In fact, Harvick had five career poles entering this weekend and won two of those races.
“It definitely helps to have the first pit stall, I can’t say it isn’t important,” Harvick said. “It’s never been really something that we’ve put a lot of effort into to figure out what we needed to do. It’s been that way for a long time.”
The unexpected qualifying success comes at a much-needed time for Harvick and his No.29 Chevrolet team. Three races into the Chase, he is struggling to keep pace with the three-man pack that has pulled away from the rest of the championship-contending field.
Harvick is fourth in the series standings, 39 points behind leader Matt Kenseth.
“Since Day 1 of this year, everybody has kind of written us off,” Harvick said when asked if he and his team were sending a message. “We’ve done our thing and put ourselves into position to just go out and race and enjoy it.”
Jimmie Johnson, who is second in the series standings, qualified third, Brad Keselowski was fourth and Joey Logano was fifth.
Johnson is fresh off a victory at Dover, Del., last weekend – his fifth of the season – and trails Kenseth by eight points in his quest for a sixth Cup championship.
“Track position is so important,” Johnson said. “It makes your day so much easier when you qualify well and have a good pit stall and start up front.
“At this track, there’s a very good chance there will be fuel strategy and tire strategy coming into play, and that jumbles things up.”
Six Chase drivers will start in the top 10. Joining Harvick, Johnson and Logano are Dale Earnhardt Jr. (sixth), Matt Kenseth (seventh) and Carl Edwards (ninth).
Goodyear brought a new tire compound to the track this weekend, and NASCAR allowed teams additional time to test Thursday. Even with the extra practice, several drivers have had difficulty adjusting.
“We haven’t really made a lot of progress,” Kenseth said. “We’ve just been way off, and we’re kind of running out of time to figure it out. We still have (Saturday).”
Added Keselowski: “It isn’t the ideal situation with the way the track surface is, but it is probably the best we can do given the track and the car.”
Greg Biffle has the worst starting position among the 13 drivers in the Chase. He lines up 26th.
Utter: 704-358-5113; Twitter: @jim_utter
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