KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Kevin Harvick had to race onto the track after finally passing through inspection just as the first round of qualifying was beginning for Saturday night’s race at Kansas Speedway.
By the time things were settled, Harvick had raced his way to the pole.
Fresh off his fourth win of the season last week at Dover, Harvick turned a best lap of 188.811 mph Friday night to easily claim the top starting spot. Ryan Blaney was a distant second in 187.825 mph, with Kyle Busch, Aric Almirola and Chase Elliott rounding out the top five.
“It really shows the experience of the race team. We’re going on our fifth year together and you look at how calm everybody stayed,” Harvick said of the prequalifying inspection. “That’s really what makes us tick week after week, and the guys are performing at a high level.
It was Harvick’s fourth pole at Kansas, his most at any track on the Cup Series circuit — yet the perfectionist in him was left ruing a couple of bobbles that could have made his lap even better.
“I hate when I don’t get the most out of the car. They give me really fast race cars to drive every week,” he said. “We were able to get the pole, so that’s obviously a big advantage. You get that first pit stall and any advantage we can get we’ll take.”
Other drivers weren’t as fortunate getting through inspection.
There were 10 cars still trying to clear it when the first qualifying session started, and several never made it on the track by the end. That included Matt Kenseth, who is making his return this week in the No. 6 Ford for Roush Fenway Racing, and Clint Bowyer, the hometown favorite from Emporia, Kansas.
“You know, Matt’s big debut not getting on the racetrack probably isn’t very good either,” said Bowyer, who has long sought his first Cup win at Kansas. “I don’t know. It’s a pretty bad taste in my mouth right now. It’s hard not to go off, because it’s pretty frustrating.”
Bowyer said the lack of clarity in getting through inspection was especially vexing.
“The body is good, then the chassis is off. It’s just super frustrating,” he said. “We were fifth-quick in practice and — really, NASCAR has a job to do and it’s hard. It’s difficult to do. And govern everybody on a fair and level playing field. But I don’t think this is the answer either.”
REAL TALK: Blaney was asked whether it was difficult to watch Harvick dominate week-in and week-out, and he replied: “I wouldn’t say it’s demoralizing. They put in a bunch of effort and their cars are really fast. But it’s no joke; he’s head and shoulders above everyone else right now.
OTHER TOP QUALIFIERS: Denny Hamlin will start sixth after a solid run, followed by series champion Martin Truex Jr., who won both Kansas races last season. Kurt Busch, Joey Logano and Chris Buescher will round out the top 10.
SUAREZ SPINS: Daniel Suarez qualified 22nd, but he spun in Turn 4 and flat-spotted his tires. He’ll almost certainly need to change them for the race, sending him to the back for the start.
WEEPING RACETRACK: The asphalt bubbled up in one of the corners when it became saturated during a brief but heavy downpour early Friday. The weeper, as it’s called, turned into a geyser when holes were drilled to release the pressure. The whole ordeal caused about a 30-minute delay during practice.
SCHEDULE SHAKE-UPS: The weeper, combined with the rain pushing back the first Truck Series practice session, made a busy Friday afternoon even tighter. The result was a single 2 1/2-hour practice session for the Cup Series guys, rather than two shorter sessions.