NASCAR’s Kevin Harvick earned the nickname “The Closer” for the way he finishes Sprint Cup races.
Now, he finally has a handle on how to start a race.
Harvick on Friday afternoon claimed the pole for Sunday’s Hollywood Casino 400 at Kansas Speedway by zipping around in his Chevrolet on Goodyear’s new tires with a speed of 187.526 mph.
It was Harvick’s sixth career pole but first in more than seven years, dating to Sept. 17, 2006, at New Hampshire, ending a drought of 254 starts without a pole. And it was Richard Childress Racing’s first pole since Sept. 16, 2007, at New Hampshire, where Clint Bowyer won the pole.
Harvick and Bowyer also went on to win those races.
“Throughout my career, for whatever reason, we haven’t qualified well,” said Harvick, who is fourth in the Chase for the Sprint Cup standings. “We always seem to race a lot better than we qualify. We’ve always had better race cars than fast speed cars. But we had speed right off the bat.”
Rookie Ricky Stenhouse Jr., a non-Chase driver, claimed the outside spot in the first row with a speed of 187.480 mph in his Ford, followed by Jimmie Johnson, who is second in the Chase standings and turned in a 187.162 in a Chevrolet.
Sprint Cup points leader Matt Kenseth qualified seventh at 185.893.
Harvick said the No. 29 team has not put as much a priority on qualifying as other teams.
“These races are so long, so I shouldn’t say it doesn’t matter because it definitely helps to have the first pit stall and have the track position ” Harvick said, “but it’s never been really something that honestly we put a lot of effort into to try to figure out what we needed to do. We’ve always just been able to make it work by not qualifying well and winning races. It’s just kind of been that way for a long time.”
Harvick, 37, who will be moving to Stewart-Haas Racing next year, trails Kenseth by 39 points in the Chase, but said he wasn’t making any kind of statement with his qualifying effort.
“To be honest with you, I walked into media day (in February at Daytona), and there were two people standing in line to conduct interviews,” Harvick said, “so from day one of this year, everybody’s kind of written us off.
“We’re three races into the Chase, and it is what it is. We’ve done our thing and put ourselves in position to just go out and race and enjoy it.”
Stenhouse, who is a shoo-in to beat his girlfriend, Danica Patrick, for Rookie of the Year honors, has been on a pretty good roll at Kansas Speedway.
He won the Nationwide series race last October and finished 11th in his first Sprint Cup race at the track last spring after leading 26 laps.
“I like Kansas a lot,” Stenhouse said. “I liked it before they paved it, and I’ve liked it since they paved it. We came from two laps down here to get the win last time then we had a test here earlier in the year and found a lot of speed and thought we would always be good coming back to Kansas.
“We felt really confident coming back and I think this proves that we have a reason to feel good about coming back to Kansas. It is a cool race track to drive on, and also for the fans outside the race track I think we have a little bit of everything here. It is a fun race track in general.”