A line of heavy thunderstorms cancelled practice for the NASCAR Sprint Cup series at Kentucky Speedway Friday shortly after it started then forced NASCAR to cancel pole qualifying five hours ahead of time in favor of getting teams more valuable practice time. Under NASCAR rules instituted just this week, owner points determine the starting lineup and Kevin Harvick will lead the field to the green Saturday night.
The pole is the 16th of Harvick’s career and his first of the season. Harvick’s last pole came at Chicagoland Speedway last fall. With a new surface, and new configuration at the 1.5 mile speedway, along with NASCAR’s lower downforce package in effect for this weekend, NASCAR opted to cancel the qualifying session that was scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Instead, Sprint Cup final practice will be from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m.
“I think this weekend is a little bit of an unknown,” Harvick said. “We spent two days here testing and obviously we had to make some adjustments – Goodyear had to make some adjustments to the tires coming back to make them live. I think as we have gone through practice we haven’t had any tire issues so far. But it changed a lot with the feel of the car and the things that you want in the car. We’ve scrambled a little bit. I felt like we were better the second time out on the race track.”
“I think hopefully being able to get some more practice will be beneficial ,” he added. “Because we still don’t really have a good idea of exactly where we need to be as far as balance and what is going to happen the longer you run the car. “
Brad Keselowski will roll off second followed by Kurt Busch, Joey Logano and Carl Edwards. The new rainout rules replace the previous ones that based the lineup on practice speeds in the event of a rainout.
Denny Hamlin led the brief first practice with a lap of 188.285 mph. The first of two scheduled practices had been scheduled for one hour and 25 minutes but cars were called in 30 minutes as severe thunderstorms moved into the area. The rains came about 20 minutes later.
Jimmie Johnson had the fastest lap prior to Hamlin with a speed of 188.121 mph. On a later run however, Johnson lost his Chevy exiting turn 4 and hit the wall. Johnson was uninjured and was able to make it back to the garage but the team was forced to pull out the backup car.
“I just got wide,” Johnson said . “I didn’t have anything go wrong, I just got wide and the car just started going straight and it wouldn’t turn. I was in the marbles. I couldn’t see the line where the track was clean and dirty and it just kept going straight and straight and straight and hit the wall.”
Because the incident happened before qualifying, Johnson will not be forced to start from the back of the field Saturday. He will roll off ninth. The full lineup can be found here. With 40 entries, no one was sent home. The NASCAR Sprint Cup Quaker State 400 will get the green flag just after 7:30 p.m. with live coverage on the NBC Sports Network.