By: Robbie Mays – @robbiemays | MRN.com on April 7, 2017 | 7:15 P.M. EST
This is the fifth time a driver swept all three rounds and the third time by Kevin Harvick. (Photo: Getty Images)
Kevin Harvick was fastest in all three rounds of Friday’s knockout qualifying and will lead the field to green in Sunday’s O’Reilly Auto Parts 500 at the newly repaved and reconfigured Texas Motor Speedway.
Harvick’s fast lap of 198.405 mph was enough for his 19th career pole in his 581st career Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series start.
Harvick’s final round was adventurous to say the least. On his first qualifying attempt at the start of the round, he lost grip in his Stewart-Haas Racing Ford and had to abort his lap.
“I just didn’t feel like I got through turns 1 and 2 like I needed to,” Harvick said. “The front took off and I didn’t want to do what everybody was doing in practice and get out of the groove and drive it in the wall. It’s been a stressful day.”
After cooling his engine, Harvick was able to go back out on track in the closing seconds of the five-minute round to turn the fast time. He credited running in the NASCAR XFINITY Series this weekend, which got two practice sessions Friday afternoon, as part of what helped him earn the Cup Series pole.
“I gotta say thank you to the XFINITY guys for letting me run that car this weekend,” Harvick said. “I feel like the reps really allowed us to learn some things in that car that I was able to apply here.”
Ford drivers swept the top five in qualifying, and eight of the top-12 starting positions. Ryan Blaney will lineup on the outside of the front row with Clint Bowyer in third and Team Penske teammates Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski rounding out the top five.
“I thought 3 and 4 we got a little tight over there,” Blaney said of his qualifying effort. “We got better each round which is encouraging. We’ve got a fast car. It was pretty good in race trim today. Overall not a bad start to the weekend.”
Bowyer will start in the top 10 for third time in 2017 and is looking for his third consecutive top-10 finish on Sunday.
“That’s a good day for all of us at Stewart-Haas,” Bowyer said. I appreciate Ford giving us the horsepower. This is a horsepower track still. To come to this racetrack, you know it’s a repave, you know it’s gonna be slick. Aero is premium and we showed up with four fast hot rods.”
Inspection once again was a factor in determining the starting lineup. Ten cars failed to turn a lap during round one of qualifying after not being able to pass inspection, including Kyle Busch, Dale Earnhardt Jr, Kyle Larson, Chase Elliott and others.
“I ain’t too worried about it,” Earnhardt said. “This race is pretty long. The pit selection bothers me a little bit because we can’t get a better pit stall. We’ll see how we end up on pit road.”
Defending Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson also had problems during qualifying. The six-time Texas winner spun during the first round of qualifying, and will officially start 24th on Sunday, but will be forced to the rear of the field for having to change tires.
“I took the stripe and we were in position to run two,” Johnson said. “Chad called me off when he saw the time and when I heard that I dumped the throttle real hard to try to check up. It pitched the car sideways. I thought I had it saved and I got in the marbles and it spun.”
All 40 cars who entered will start Sunday’s race, the seventh of the 2017 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season. Teams will have two practices on Saturday at Texas to dial their cars in for Sunday’s 334-lap, 500 mile race.