Story By: REID SPENCER / NASCAR – RICHMOND, VA – Kevin Harvick vaulted to the forefront in the final round of Friday’s Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series knockout qualifying at Richmond Raceway, securing the pole position for Saturday night’s Federated Auto Parts 400 (7:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) by .006 seconds over Denny Hamlin.
A seven-time winner this season, Harvick covered the .75-mile distance in 22.153 seconds (121.880 mph). Outside the top 12 in the first round and 11th in the second, Harvick scored his second Busch Pole Award at Richmond, his third of the season and the 24th of his career.
Harvick did not make mock qualifying runs during practice, opting to concentrate on race runs, but his car remained consistent throughout the three rounds.
“We didn’t really fall off,” Harvick said. “I think that’s part of the game here. I think we made some good adjustments on making the car better, and for me, just getting more confidence in how fast I could let the car roll and stay in the throttle up off the corner.
“In the first round we didn’t really know what we had and ran a lap less than a lot of the faster guys.”
Hamlin (121.847 mph), whose hopes of advancing to the second round of the NASCAR Playoffs suffered a major blow in a 32nd-place finish last Sunday at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, was surprised by the strength of his qualifying run in the money round.
But Hamlin is a three-time winner at Richmond, his home track, and he expects to run well in race trim in Saturday’s Playoff race, the second of Round 1 (7:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).
“I feel like, if there’s any track I have an advantage at, it’s this one,” Hamlin said. “In this day and age of data sharing, advantages are no longer existent, but I still feel like, in the long runs, I can save tires and do the things I need to do to be successful here, and, hopefully, it all comes together.”
Martin Truex Jr. (121.529 mph) qualified third, followed by Ryan Blaney (121.397 mph) and Daniel Suárez (121.381 mph). Suárez swept the first two rounds, running the fastest lap of the day (122.928 mph) in the second, but his No. 19 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota couldn’t match the speed of Harvick’s No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford when the pole was a stake.
Suárez was the only non-Playoff driver in the top five. Cole Custer, who made the final round for the first time in his third Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series start, qualified a career-best 11th as the only other non-Playoff driver in the top dozen. Kurt Busch will start sixth, followed by Aric Almirola, Brad Keselowski (winner of the last three races in the series), Erik Jones, Kyle Larson, Custer and Kyle Busch, who tapped the outside wall in the first round.
Other playoff drivers will start as follows: Joey Logano 13th, Alex Bowman 14th, Chase Elliott 19th and Jimmie Johnson 22nd. Johnson, Elliott, Jones and Hamlin occupy positions 13 through 16 in the standings, with the Playoff field set to be cut to 12 drivers after the Sept. 30 event at the Charlotte road course.
Clint Bowyer and Austin Dillon failed to advance to the second round and will start 25th and 28th, respectively, at Richmond.
UNOFFICIAL: Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Qualifying – Federated Auto Parts 400
Friday, September 21, 2018
1. (4) Kevin Harvick (P), Ford, 121.880 mph
2. (11) Denny Hamlin (P), Toyota, 121.847 mph.
3. (78) Martin Truex Jr. (P), Toyota, 121.529 mph.
4. (12) Ryan Blaney (P), Ford, 121.397 mph.
5. (19) Daniel Suárez, Toyota, 121.381 mph.
6. (41) Kurt Busch (P), Ford, 121.256 mph.
7. (10) Aric Almirola (P), Ford, 120.968 mph.
8. (2) Brad Keselowski (P), Ford, 120.849 mph.
9. (20) Erik Jones (P), Toyota, 120.849 mph.
10. (42) Kyle Larson (P), Chevrolet, 120.822 mph.
11. (51) Cole Custer(i), Ford, 120.751 mph.
12. (18) Kyle Busch (P), Toyota, 120.590 mph.
13. (22) Joey Logano (P), Ford, 121.447 mph.
14. (88) Alex Bowman (P), Chevrolet, 121.425 mph.
15. (1) Jamie McMurray, Chevrolet, 121.397 mph.
16. (17) Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Ford, 121.152 mph.
17. (31) Ryan Newman, Chevrolet, 121.093 mph.
18. (6) Matt Kenseth, Ford, 120.979 mph.
19. (9) Chase Elliott (P), Chevrolet, 120.903 mph.
20. (24) William Byron #, Chevrolet, 120.784 mph.
21. (21) Paul Menard, Ford, 120.676 mph.
22. (48) Jimmie Johnson (P), Chevrolet, 120.332 mph.
23. (37) Chris Buescher, Chevrolet, 120.326 mph.
24. (34) Michael McDowell, Ford, 119.058 mph.
25. (14) Clint Bowyer (P), Ford, 121.049 mph.
26. (43) Bubba Wallace #, Chevrolet, 120.946 mph.
27. (38) David Ragan, Ford, 120.935 mph.
28. (3) Austin Dillon (P), Chevrolet, 120.816 mph.
29. (32) Matt DiBenedetto, Ford, 120.778 mph.
30. (47) AJ Allmendinger, Chevrolet, 120.681 mph.
31. (13) Ty Dillon, Chevrolet, 120.498 mph.
32. (15) Ross Chastain(i), Chevrolet, 120.450 mph.
33. (95) Regan Smith, Chevrolet, 120.278 mph.
34. (72) Corey LaJoie, Chevrolet, 119.585 mph.
35. (96) Jeffrey Earnhardt, Toyota, 119.464 mph.
36. (52) Gray Gaulding, Ford, 117.739 mph.
37. (23) Alon Day, Toyota, 117.627 mph.
38. (00) Joey Gase(i), Chevrolet, 117.596 mph.
39. (99) Landon Cassill(i), Chevrolet, 117.055 mph.
40. (66) Timmy Hill(i), Toyota, 116.989 mph.