Kevin Harvick led a fleet of five Fords at Texas Motor Speedway Friday. Harvick led all three qualifying sessions and put down a lap of 27.217 seconds, 198.410 miles per hour to grab the pole for Sunday’s Monster Energy NASCAR Cup series O’Reilly Auto Parts 500.
“It has been an eventful day,” Harvick said. “Really just a lot of unknowns. The race track has rubbered in nice. We just have such a short amount of time to go out and figure out where you need your car and what you need to do. My guys did a good job of having a good car when we got here. It was about me getting in a rhythm.”
Indeed it was an eventful day for some of NASCAR’s top teams and ended with nine cars not passing inspection in time to even take a qualifying lap. Among them were three of the four cars out of the Hendrick stable. The lone Hendrick representative, Jimmie Johnson had his own issues, nearly spinning out after his lap in the first session. Johnson got loose entering turn 2 and slid sideways before getting pointed right. He didn’t hit anything, but the tires on his Chevy were flat spotted. Johnson was 24th in session, but with the team electing to change tires, Johnson did not take a lap in the second session and will start in the rear of the field Sunday.
“I think we used up all our good luck at Homestead last year,” Johnson said. “I took the stripe and it we were in position to run two and see what was going to happen. Chad (Knaus, crew chief) called me off when he saw the time. When I heard that, I dumped the throttle real hard to try and check-up and roll through the center so I could go through the corner slowly; and when I dumped out of the throttle it pitched the car sideways and I started chasing it going into the turn. I thought I had it saved and then I got into all those marbles and kept getting closer to the wall and spun.”
Johnson’s spin was the only one during qualifying, however, earlier in the day several drivers had issues adjusting to the new pavement and the new configuration of turns 1 and 2. Among them were Kyle Busch, Erik Jones and Chase Elliott. All spun during practice Friday. Busch’s team elected to repair their primary car while the teams of Jones and Elliott went to backup cars.
Those three drivers were among nine who failed to pass inspection in time to make Friday’s first round of qualifying.
“We were just behind the eight-ball having to fix that car,” Busch’s crew chief Adam Stevens said. “So obviously we got in line really late and in our haste, we didn’t get out tech blocks set correctly, so we passed templates, passed the grid, passed undercar, passed everything except when we got to the scales, which is the very last thing and the wedge has to be within a certain number and we were below that number. That’s just for tech – it’s not for on the race track – so the car was all set to go and we didn’t get a chance to set our tech blocks because we were in such a hurry, so just an error on our part.”
Included in the group, who will line up Sunday according to owner points, were Kasey Kahne, Chris Buescher and Dale Earnhardt Jr.
“I ain’t too worried about it,” said Earnhardt who will start 37th Sunday. “The race is pretty long. Pit selection bothers you a little bit because we won’t be able to get out there and get a better pit stall. But, we’ll see where we end up on pit road. I don’t know what was wrong with our car going through tech, but if you don’t make it you don’t get out there and I like that. I like the rules being the same for everybody.”
There was no drama at the front as Ryan Blaney took the second starting spot.
“(Turns)three and four we got a little tight out there,” Blaney said. “I should have raised the track bar down the back. We got better each round which is always encouraging, always what you want. You never want to get worse or make the wrong adjustments. I feel this year we’ve gotten better going round by round.”
Clint Bowyer, Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski round on the top five.
“How awesome is that to have Ford sweep the top-five?” Logano said “Wow. That was a good recovery by us. We were 17th that first round and were able to recover. I thought we had a shot at the pole the last lap.”
Jamie McMurray, Martin Truex Jr., Matt Kenseth, Ryan Newman and Kurt Busch fill out the top 10. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Trevor Bayne were the final two cars to transfer to the final round.
With 40 teams entered, no one was sent home.
The qualifying session marked the third time Harvick has swept all three rounds. He’s also the first driver to score a repeat pole, his first of the year coming at Atlanta. After celebrating his 19th career pole, Harvick said the issues for those who didn’t pass inspection didn’t fall on NASCAR.
“I think NASCAR has been pretty clear on where the progression of the inspection process was going to go,” Harvick said. “Last week was the beginning of harsher inspection and you had to have everything straight by last week and this is the second week. It is a process. I think everybody in the garage supports the process to be consistent and thorough and not a moving target. I think it has taken us a long time to get to this point of reigning everything in.”
“As long as it is consistent and the process is the same all year,” he added. “I don’t think anybody will have a problem with it. I think if the process changes and guys start to get by with things, as long as that doesn’t happen and the consistency stays, this will become less and less of a story.”