It was a fitting end to an emotional day as Stewart-Haas Racing driver Kevin Harvick scored his sixth pole of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Friday evening at Atlanta Motor Speedway. Earlier Friday team co-owner Tony Stewart made his return to NASCAR after missing three races due to a tragic accident at a dirt track in Upstate New York. After the second round of the three round qualifying session, Stewart gave some advice to his driver. Harvick went out second in the final five minute round and put down a lap of 29.118 seconds, 190.398 mph to win the pole for Sunday night’s Oral-B USA 500.
“After the second run he went out and radioed to me that I needed to go back and do what I was doing in practice,” Harvick said. “Just good to have that reassurance on the radio next to you.”
Aric Almirola led the first sessions, Matt Kenseth the second, but Harvick’s lap in the final five minutes earned him his 12th NASCAR Sprint Cup career pole.
“Our car didn’t really change that much (during the qualifying rounds)”, Harvick said. “I just messed the first round up really bad trying to do something that I wasn’t doing in practice. Luckily we were fast enough to be able to get through the first round into the second round. The second round we got into a little better rhythm where I wanted to run on the race track.”
Brad Keselowski was able to secure the second starting position with a lap of 29.170 seconds, 190.058 mph.
“It’s by far the best qualifying effort I’ve ever had here,” Keselowski said. “That’s a testament to the team and the work they’ve done and trying to be better. We’re having a phenomenal season, but I just wish it would have been one more spot instead of second to first-place, but that’s the way it goes and hopefully we can find that one more spot here Sunday night.”
Rookie Kyle Larson put down an impressive lap, 29.197 seconds, 189.883 mph and will start third Sunday night.
“It was a little bit better than we probably though we were going to be after practice.,” Larson said. “We were a few tenths off of people that made good runs in practice. But, that shows that the engineers and everybody made good adjustments after we ended the first practice before qualifying. And I was able to get through Turns at both ends better. I was pretty tight in practice. The car was really good there in qualifying. I was consistent. I guess we just didn’t get around the track as quickly as the No. 4 (Kevin Harvick, pole winner).”
Ryan Newman and Kenseth rounded out the top five. Martin Truex Jr. starts sixth, Almirola seventh, defending race winner Kyle Busch will start eighth and points leader Jeff Gordon starts ninth.
“I just love this race track,” Gordon said. “It’s a very challenging track where you slip and slide and search for lines and try to manage your tires. Of course right now we want to keep the momentum going and keep the confidence going. Even though there isn’t a track like this in the Chase - maybe a little similar to Homestead where you have to really maximize that grip - it’s about going out there and having some fun and hopefully competing for a win.”
Gordon’s Hendrick Motorsports teammate Kasey Kahne starts 11th; Carl Edwards 12th and Stewart will roll off 12th. The full lineup can be found here, the complete qualifying results here. The NASCAR Sprint Cup series Oral-B USA 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway gets the green flag just after 7:30 p.m. EST Sunday night with coverage on ESPN starting at 7:00 p.m. EST.