After a week spent with the focus on the Championship 4 drivers, Kevin Harvick stole the spotlight Friday night. A week after being eliminated from the Chase, Harvick put down a lap of 177.637 mph with just over a minute left in the final five minute qualifying round at Homestead-Miami Speedway and will lead the field to the green in Sunday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Ford EcoBoost 400.
“I knew if we could just run the same speed every round, that is half the battle,” Harvick said. “You never know how much it is going to slow down for everybody else, and it doesn’t take much to make a mistake.”
Those four Championship contenders meanwhile struggled in qualifying although almost
all equally. While the three of the drivers made it out of the first round safely, Jimmie Johnson struggled, was bumped out of the top 24 and was forced to make a second run.
That second run was nearly thwarted however. Johnson’s team waited until less than a minute to go in the first round. As he got up to speed however, Landon Cassill spun and the clock was stopped with 46 seconds to go.
When it restarted, Johnson charged out with a group of cars and put down a lap good enough to make the second round.
In that second round however, both Johnson and Chase contender Joey Logano failed to find decent speed and both failed to advance to the final round; Logano will start 13th, Johnson on the same row in 14th.
“Unfortunately, that first outing we just didn’t get a good lap,” Johnson said. “Then I was on a great lap and the caution came out so we ended up with an additional lap on our tires. We had a nice pick up there for five or six laps on our tires, whatever it was and ended up 14th. A bit unlucky and we kind of hurt ourselves that opening run and I think to end up 14th on the age of those tires is respectable. Qualifying isn’t my strong suit, I’m much better at racing, so let’s line them up and go racing.”
For the two remaining Chase drivers, their finial round wasn’t exactly a stellar one; Kyle Busch will start 8th, Sunday, Carl Edwards 9th, putting both only two rows ahead of Logano and Johnson.
“I don’t think any of us really want to start that far back,” Edwards said. “We probably had a lot better hopes than that. It is what it is. Pit stall selection will be pretty even, I guess. I haven’t looked at all the openings. But yeah, I don’t know what to think of it, really.”
Beside Harvick, Brad Keselowski will start second, Ryan Newman, who led practice earlier Friday will start third, followed by Denny Hamlin and Chase Elliott who led the first two rounds.
Martin Truex Jr. will roll off sixth, Matt Kenseth seventh, Ryan Blaney eighth with Tony Stewart and AJ Allmendinger 11th and 12th behind Busch and Edwards. Gray Gaulding was the only driver to not make the field. The full lineup can be found here.
The NASCAR Sprint Cup Ford EcoBoost 400 will get the green flag just after 2:30 p.m. ET, Sunday. Live coverage will be on NBC.