DARLINGTON, S.C. – In a clean sweep of Coors Light Pole Qualifying, Kevin Harvick channeled his inner Cale Yarborough and notched his second-career Bojangles’ Southern 500 pole Saturday afternoon at Darlington Raceway.
Harvick’s pole-winning lap in the third and final round of knockout qualifying stopped the clocks at 27.669 seconds (177.730 mph), earning the former Cup champion and 2014 Southern 500 winner his 21st-career pole aboard the No. 4 Busch Beer Throwback Ford for Stewart Haas Racing.
After an up-and-down season following the team’s transistion from Chevrolet to Ford, Harvick said he feels that their performance Saturday shows that SHR is starting to peak at the right time.
“I think we’ve obviously had a big gap of learning since we switched to Ford and a lot of things have been different and we’ve had to do a lot of things differently, but this is a great indicator of what’s ahead,” said Harvick. “The workload’s been pretty heavy … but we just keep getting better. Hopefully, we can keep improving and this is a sign of things to come tomorrow night.”
Of Yarborough’s 69 career poles, only two came at Darlington, but the NASCAR Hall of Famer scored five Southern 500 victories in his iillustrious career – success that Harvick hopes he can replicate come race time on Sunday night.
“Cale was always really, really good here and this paint scheme ran at the front of a lot of Cup races,” Harvick added. “I’d love to add a Southern 500 win to its history tomorrow. That’d be really special.”
Perennial qualifying bridesmaid Martin Truex Jr. landed second on the time sheets for the seventh time this year in his No. 78 Bass Pro Shops/TRACKER Boats 40th Anniversary Toyota, posting a best lap of 27.771 seconds (177.077 mph) around the 1.366-mile, egg-shaped oval.
The ‘Kyle and Kyle Show’ followed on row two, with Kyle Busch’s Toyota timing in third-fastest (27.833/176.682) ahead of Kyle Larson’s Chevrolet (27.851/176.568).
Larson’s teammate Jamie McMurray completed the top five.
Brad Keselowski, Kurt Busch, Joey Logano, Denny Hamlin, Erik Jones, Matt Kenseth and Ryan Blaney filled out the first six rows on the grid and all advanced through all three knockout rounds.
In a strategy play to save a lap on their race tires for Sunday night’s race, many teams outside the final round cut line elected to stand on their times, knowing they could not go faster and bump into the top 12.
The first of those was Austin Dillon, who timed in 13th-fastest (27.968/175.830) in the No. 3 American Ethanol-Wrangler Throwback Chevolet for Richard Childress Racing.
Other notables eliminated during the second knockout round included Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (14th), Clint Bowyer (16th), Jimmie Johnson (18th), Chase Elliott (20th) and Dale Earnhardt Jr. (22nd).
Ty Dillon was bumped out of the top 24 by Daniel Suarez with seconds to go in the first round and barely made it across the line to start a final lap before the red and black flags flew, but tagged the wall in Turn 1 and had to abort his last run.
As a result, Dillon will roll off 25th in the Smokey Yunick and Johnny Rutherford-inspired No. 13 GEICO Chevrolet on Sunday night, after a best lap of 28.132 seconds (174.804 mph).
“I probably should’ve kept it in the pits, it looks like … but we were just trying to make something happen,” said the younger Dillon. “We picked up a second from our qualifying run yesterday, so I knew most of my speed was in (Turns) 1 and 2. I was just a little aggressive getting in and getting back to the throttle.”
“You’re so naturally close to the wall there that it’s hard to really tell how close you are to the wall and I just got it. It just kept pulling me into it, but I think our car’s fine. I don’t think it’s hurt too bad.”
Chris Buescher (27th) and Danica Patrick (33rd) were other heavy hitters eliminated in the opening round.
The 68th annual Bojangles’ Southern 500 kicks off Sunday evening at 6 p.m. ET, live on NBCSN, the Motor Racing Network and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio, channel 90.
Full qualifying results can be viewed on the next page…