via John Sturbin for TMS
FORT WORTH, Texas (April 7, 2017) – Kevin Harvick will start on the pole for the 21st annual O’Reilly Auto Parts 500 after completing a three-segment sweep of Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series knockout qualifying Friday afternoon at Texas Motor Speedway.
Harvick toured TMS’ repaved and re-profiled 1.5-mile oval in Fort Worth in 27.217 seconds and 198.405 mph in his No. 4 Jimmy John’s Ford Fusion fielded by Stewart Haas Racing to cap the final, 10-minute session. Harvick topped Round 2 in 27.307 seconds and 197.751 mph and paced the opening session in 27.565 seconds and 195.901 mph.
“It’s been an eventful day. Really just a lot of unknowns,” said Harvick, who scored his 19th career Cup pole but first in 29 races at TMS. “The race track has rubbered in nice. We just have such a short amount of time to go out and figure out where you need your car and what you need to do. My guys did a good job of having a good car when we got here. It was about me getting in a rhythm. The car was a lot faster than me and I didn’t want to make a mistake and tear it up. They did a great job.
“I think running the XFINITY car was a benefit today (in two practices) because of the track and entrances and exits to the corners changed and widened out. I think that will be the story of the weekend, the progression of the track and the cars and where all that goes. I’m looking forward to practice and racing tomorrow and hopefully having a good day Sunday. There’s a lot of track position to be played. That first pit stall is a big advantage and for us that’ll be good to have.”
Friday’s qualifications were the first on the track since it was repaved during the offseason, and re-profiled in Turns 1 and 2. Those turns now are banked at 20 degrees, down from 24 degrees. Turns 3 and 4 remain at 24 degrees. Turn 1 also is wider by 20 feet, increasing to 80 feet.
Harvick confirmed Turns 1 and 2 presented a huge challenge all day, which started with an extended 2-hour, 25-minute practice session.
“I think that’s what everybody was looking for, something that was challenging,” said Harvick, who bagged his second pole and fifth top-10 start of the season. “It’s very hard when you get into Turn 1 because you’re so used to where the corner used to be. It’s hard to pick up your reference points because the bottom is so far down there and you’re so far out. You have to drive straight down the race track. It’s hard to get situated in a couple hours. Hopefully that gets better as the weekend goes.
“The treacherous part right now is getting out of the groove. If we had the tire dragging tractor (aka Texas Tire Monster) still hooked up, I would suggest to hook it up and put it down in the groove and follow that groove we have put down. It was a huge help. The part they have prepared was very good but the inside and outside of that groove is very dirty and you can’t get everything off the race track or out of the pores of the race track until the cars come and suck them all out going 200 mph.
“Having some more rubber drug along the race track would be a huge help for a second groove, if there is nothing going on tonight.”
The Texas Tire Monster regularly has been grinding Goodyear rubber into the surface for over a month. The Tire Monster is scheduled to hit the track after Saturday afternoon’s My Bariatric 300 NASCAR XFINITY Series race.
Ryan Blaney advanced from fifth in Round 2 to second in the final session with a lap in 27.270 seconds at 198.020 mph in the No. 21 Motorcraft/Quick Lane Tire & Auto Center Ford fielded by Wood Brothers Racing.
“I thought we got better and better each round, which was nice,” said Blaney, who posted his fourth top-10 start of 2017 and third in five races at TMS. “You always want to get better and we did that. I think we’ve done that very well this year compared to last year. I think I’ve gotten a lot better at that and it was something we wanted to improve on. I feel like last year we were really good in the first round and not make the right adjustments or not go enough to keep progressing up positions through the sessions. I feel we’ve done a really good job of that this year. That’s something to be proud of.”
Clint Bowyer, also of SHR, wound up third overall after trailing Harvick in the first two sessions. Bowyer’s best lap in Round 3 in his No. 14 Haas Automation Ford equaled Blaney’s numbers for time at 27.270 seconds and speed at 198.020 mph. Joey Logano of Penske Racing will start fourth after lapping at 27.306 seconds and 197.759 mph in the No. 22 Shell Pennzoil Ford.
Brad Keselowski, the only two-time race-winner this season, qualified fifth at 197.563 mph in the No. 2 Miller Lite Ford fielded by Penske Racing. He will be joined in Row 3 by Jamie McMurray, who qualified his No. 1 Sherwin-Williams Emerald Chevrolet SS fielded by Chip Ganassi Racing at 196.492 mph.
Martin Truex Jr. led the Toyota camp in seventh after a lap at 196.421 mph in the No. 78 Bass Pro Shops/TRACKER Boats Camry fielded by Furniture Row Racing.
“It’s tricky. It was good,” Truex said of his lap. “You know, I couldn’t get (Turns) 1 and 2 right the whole dang time, so it probably should have been better than seventh. I think the car was better than the driver today, so we’ll work hard on it tomorrow and go get them on Sunday.”
Seven-time and defending Cup champion Jimmie Johnson, a six-time winner at TMS , will start 24th in the No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet SS following an opening session spin. Johnson flat-spotted three of his Goodyear tires after losing traction through Turns 1 and 2.
“I think we used up all our good luck at Homestead last year,” said Johnson, referring to the season-ender in Florida last November. “I took the stripe and we were in position to run (Turn 2) and see what was going to happen. Chad (Knaus, crew chief) called me off when he saw the time. When I heard that, I dumped the throttle real hard to try and check-up and roll through the center so I could go through the corner slowly; and when I dumped out of the throttle it pitched the car sideways and I started chasing it going into the turn.
“I thought I had it saved and then I got into all those marbles and kept getting closer to the wall and spun. What’s fortunate is that we’ve got a great car. I’m very happy to have Hitachi on the quarter panel taking it for a ride. And, I was screaming ‘Hitachi!’ as I was getting close to that wall.”
Defending event champion Kyle Busch of Joe Gibbs Racing was among a prominent group of nine drivers whose cars failed to get through NASCAR inspection in time to participate in the opening, 20-minute session. Busch, who scraped the Turn 2 wall during practice and damaged the right rear quarter-panel of his No. 18 Interstate Batteries Toyota Camry, will start 34th in the 40-car field. That’s three spots better than perennial fan favorite Dale Earnhardt Jr. in the No. 88 Axalta Chevrolet SS.
Sunday’s race, scheduled for 334 laps/501 miles, is set to start at 12:30 p.m. CT (TV: FOX, Radio: PRN, SiriusXM Channel 90 and locally on 95.9 FM The Ranch).