Kevin Harvick snuck past a quartet of Ford drivers to claim pole position for the Bojangles’ Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway.
The Stewart–Haas Racing driver quietly progressed through the two early part of the knockout qualifying, as track records once again fell in the new Sprint Cup qualifying format. In total the top 25 drivers from the opening segment of qualifying were all underneath the previous track, set last year by Kurt Busch.
That number, however, included one driver who would not progress through to second part of qualifying, and split two of the series’ names with Matt Kenseth setting the 25th fastest time – under the record, but outside of the crucial transfer spots – and Jimmie Johnson the 26th fastest time. Minutes before the end of the opening 20 minute portion of qualifying the big name pairing were accompanied by Brad Keselowski fight to remain in the hunt for pole position.
After the #2 team affected some adjustments to Keselowski’s Penske Racing Ford he was able to escape the bubble zone up to 15th fastest. Kenseth and Johnson, however, were unable to improve upon their times in the closing minutes, slipping out of qualifying early as David Reutimann was the only driver not to qualifying for the Saturday night race.
Harvick meanwhile was 16th fastest on the back on a single run, and he ended the second session fourth fastest as the 24 that progressed from the first part of qualifying were trimmed to a final dozen.
Once again the track record was beaten, Aric Almirola taking it down to 26.705 seconds (184.145mph) after Paul Menard had briefly held the record with the 26.734 with which he had led the opening session.
Though times were fractionally slower in the final – decisive – part of qualifying (Harvick’s pole position winning lap was 26.805 seconds) Almirola was one of four Ford drivers who will line up behind Harvick.
Almirola’s Richard Petty Motorsports teammate Marcos Ambrose held the provisional pole position after a lap that danced with the track known as ‘The Lady in Black’ on the very edge of disaster.
“It is one of those places that takes a lot of guts to go fast here,” explained Joey Logano. “It is crazy because you are right up against the wall and if you give up a little you are mad and if you go too hard you are in the fence. It is crazy when you go through one and two and you get to turn two and you never lift. You are just wide open.”
Logano himself will line up beside Harvick on the front row after he and Almirola pushed Ambrose back to fourth with Brad Keselowski – having survived his first segment scare – qualified fifth.
Jamie McMurray, who had been third fastest in the middle part of the session behind Almirola and Logano will start sixth with Paul Menard qualifying 11th fastest.
Points lead Jeff Gordon will start ninth, still looking for a first win in a season which has started with seven winners in seven races.