Kevin Harvick kept alive a strong early season for Stewart-Haas Racing on Friday at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
Five days after teammate Kurt Busch won the Daytona 500, Harvick won the pole for Sunday’s Folds Of Honor QuikTrip 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway with a fast lap of 190.398 mph. He’ll start on the front row with Chevy-driving Ryan Newman (189.870). Kyle Busch and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. will start on the second row.
Making Kurt Busch and Harvick’s accomplishments most notable is what seems to be a seamless offseason switch at SHR from Chevy to Ford.
“Everybody has a chip on their shoulder, wanting to do well,” Harvick said. “That’s nothing against (the other teams), but we wanted to go out and not miss a beat from where we were.”
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Five drivers were unable to qualify their cars because they didn’t make it through pre-qualifying inspection in time – Michael McDowell, Cole Whitt, Jeffrey Earnhardt, Derrike Cope and Cody Ware.
Under new rules, cars that don’t initially pass qualifying must return to the garage to make adjustments. That slowed the inspection process for those that failed at first.
▪ Sunday’s race will be the final one at Atlanta before the track is repaved later in March. Texas Motor Speedway is also being repaved.
Repaving news is generally met with consternation by drivers, who like a mature track that they can more easily maneuver their cars around. A newly paved track is slippery and doesn’t offer as much grip.
“We all appreciate tracks with so much character and to have the bad news that two of the tracks with the most character are going to be repaved this year, I think shocked and upset a lot of us,” said Cup champion Jimmie Johnson. “We get it. We understand, but it’s just going to take a long time for the track to get back to this condition. It’s got to happen at some point. I’m sure generations before me, drivers were bummed when tracks were resurfaced then, too. It’s just part of racing.”
How bad do drivers feel about the repaving? Dale Earnhardt Jr. tweeted that there should be a memorial service held for the old pavement.
▪ NASCAR’s new aerodynamic package also takes effect Sunday. It’s not being used at the Daytona and Talladega superspeedways.
The package includes lower downforce on the cars, with reduced spoiler and splitters. It’s the second consecutive year that NASCAR has reduced downforce, which drivers say allows them to more easily maneuver cars through corners and provides more compelling racing.
▪ The Las Vegas Review-Journal is reporting that Las Vegas is close to landing a second Cup race for the fall. For that to happen, a race at another Charlotte-based Speedway Motorsports Inc. track would presumably have to be dropped – Charlotte, Texas or New Hampshire.
According to the story, the Las Vegas Visitors and Convention and Visitors Authority will consider a seven-year, $2.5 million sponsorship that would add a second race to the Las Vegas track during a meeting.
The Las Vegas track released a statement saying more information would be available after the board meets on March 8. NASCAR had no comment.
▪ Plenty of racing is on tap Saturday at Atlanta with a Truck and Xfinity series doubleheader in the afternoon. Qualifying for the Xfinity race is at 9:15 a.m. with a 2 p.m. green flag; qualifying for the trucks is at 10:40 a.m. with a green flag of 4:30 p.m.
A final Cup practice will be squeezed in from noon until 1:20 p.m.