Kyle Busch will start on the pole for Sunday's Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway, his third pole of the season, but the bigger story?
Kevin Harvick — despite winning five of this season's first 12 races — will start at the rear for Sunday's race.
Yes, you read that right. The rear.
So what happened? Harvick's car failed pre-qualifying inspection three times, meaning he was not allowed to qualify and automatically starts at the back. His car chief also is ejected for the weekend and Harvick will lose 30 minutes of practice time on Saturday.
But Harvick wasn't the only big name to struggle in qualifying. Reigning Cup Series champion Martin Truex Jr. qualified a meager 15th, Kurt Busch 16th, Matt Kenseth 17th and Clint Bowyer 28th.
Joey Logano will start second, Denny Hamlin third, Erik Jones fourth and Brad Keselowski fifth.
Here are some other notes from Thursday at the track:
▪ As if starting from the rear isn't enough for Harvick to deal with, try this new wrinkle: illness. That adds another challenge for Harvick, who will be going for a legendary streak during Sunday's race: If he wins, he'll become the first driver since Dale Earnhardt in 1987 to win three consecutive races twice in a season.
"It’s probably a little different this week because I’ve been not feeling well and just need to make sure I’m physically ready for Sunday," Harvick said before qualifying. "I believe the car will be where it needs to be."
▪ For all the excitement surrounding the speedway on Thursday, there was one usual celebrity not in attendance: former NASCAR driver Danica Patrick. Patrick announced her retirement from NASCAR before last season's championship race in November, but then ran the 2018 Daytona 500 as her final stock car race. This weekend, Patrick is in Indianapolis prepping for Sunday's Indy 500, which is scheduled to be her final professional race. And even though it's been several years since she ran the Indy 500, she qualified seventh for this year's iteration.
▪ Jimmie Johnson's career has been fairly free of negative headlines, so it was a bit of a shock earlier this year when Lowe's, the only Cup sponsor of his career, announced its intentions to leave the sport after the 2018 season. For Johnson, who still has years remaining on his contract, that means finding a new sponsor for the first time. One potential option? Red Bull, which Johnson said has expressed interest.
"When Mr. (Rick) Hendrick makes his decision and we are able to kind of ink what opportunities are out there," Johnson said, "obviously those announcements will be made, but things have been going very well."
▪ Wednesday's Hall of Fame announcement was still a hot topic of discussion Thursday around the track. Given that current broadcaster Jeff Gordon, plus two current owners in Jack Roush and Roger Penske, were inducted, that makes good sense. But who could be some current drivers that eventually make their way into the Hall?
Johnson should be a first-ballot Hall of Famer when he eventually calls it quits, and other strong contenders include Harvick, Kyle Busch, Kenseth, Kurt Busch, and Keselowski.
Coca-Cola 600 Lineup
After Thursday qualifying; race Sunday
At Charlotte Motor Speedway
Lap length: 1.5 miles
(Car number in parentheses)
1. (18) Kyle Busch, Toyota, 191.836 mph.
2. (22) Joey Logano, Ford, 191.218.
3. (11) Denny Hamlin, Toyota, 191.049.
4. (20) Erik Jones, Toyota, 190.894.
5. (2) Brad Keselowski, Ford, 190.557.
6. (31) Ryan Newman, Chevrolet, 190.201.
7. (1) Jamie McMurray, Chevrolet, 189.940.
8. (12) Ryan Blaney, Ford, 189.893.
9. (10) Aric Almirola, Ford, 189.707.
10. (19) Daniel Suarez, Toyota, 189.707.
11. (42) Kyle Larson, Chevrolet, 188.943.
12. (3) Austin Dillon, Chevrolet, 188.075.
13. (17) Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Ford, 188.844.
14. (21) Paul Menard, Ford, 188.805.
15. (78) Martin Truex Jr., Toyota, 188.679.
16. (41) Kurt Busch, Ford, 188.363.
17. (6) Matt Kenseth, Ford, 187.983.
18. (37) Chris Buescher, Chevrolet, 187.905.
19. (38) David Ragan, Ford, 187.526.
20. (13) Ty Dillon, Chevrolet, 187.402.
21. (24) William Byron, Chevrolet, 187.272.
22. (9) Chase Elliott, Chevrolet, 187.110.
23. (48) Jimmie Johnson, Chevrolet, 186.625.
24. (43) Darrell Wallace Jr., Chevrolet, 185.816.
25. (15) Ross Chastain, Chevrolet, 187.624.
26. (95) Kasey Kahne, Chevrolet, 187.585.
27. (88) Alex Bowman, Chevrolet, 187.493.
28. (14) Clint Bowyer, Ford, 187.279.
29. (34) Michael McDowell, Ford, 186.890.
30. (47) AJ Allmendinger, Chevrolet, 186.716.
31. (32) Matt DiBenedetto, Ford, 186.047.
32. (96) Parker Kligerman, Toyota, 185.103.
33. (72) Corey LaJoie, Chevrolet, 183.150.
34. (23) Gray Gaulding, Toyota, 183.138.
35. (00) Landon Cassill, Chevrolet, 182.970.
36. (66) Timmy Hill, Toyota, 180.222.
37. (55) Jeffrey Earnhardt, Chevrolet, 178.974.
38. (51) BJ McLeod, Chevrolet, 177.731.
39. (4) Kevin Harvick, Ford, 0.000.
40. (7) JJ Yeley, Chevrolet, 0.000.
- Associated Press