The phrase "Freaky Fast" favored by one of his sponsors has been applicable across the board this year for Stewart-Haas Racing’s Kevin Harvick, but nowhere has it been more true than in knockout qualifying.
Harvick’s No. 4 Chevrolet set the mark early in the final round with a fast lap of 29.118 seconds at 190.398 mph. Despite being one of the first drivers to make an attempt in the final round, none of the other 11 competitors were able to top Harvick’s fast time.
Taking the top spot, this marked the second consecutive week the driver with the nickname "Happy" has won the pole, his sixth of the year. That equals the number of poles Harvick was able to capture in his previous 13 Sprint Cup seasons.
Even when he is not winning the pole, Harvick has been one of the fastest cars week-in and week-out in qualifying, putting the No. 4 Chevrolet 12th or better in 18 of last 19 races dating back to Texas in early April.
"Our car didn’t really change that much," said Harvick. "I just messed the first round up really bad trying to do something that I wasn’t doing in practice. Luckily we were fast enough to be able to get through the first round into the second round. The second round we got into a little better rhythm where I wanted to run on the race track. I’ve got to thank everybody on our Jimmy John’s team they make my life a lot easier on Friday’s and this is a lot of fun."
Brad Keselowski challenged Harvick for the top spot, but was unable to top the fast lap and will roll off second for Sunday’s race. Kyle Larson had the third-fastest time of the session, followed by Ryan Newman, Matt Kenseth, Martin Truex Jr., Jeff Gordon and Carl Edwards.
Making his first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series start in three weeks, Tony Stewart qualified his No. 14 Chevrolet in the 12th spot for Sunday’s race.
Richard Childress Racing’s Austin Dillon just missed advancing to the final round, and will start 13th on Sunday.
Matt Kenseth led the second round of qualifying, followed by Harvick, Keselowski, Larson, and Gordon.
For only the third time this season, Joey Logano missed advancing to the final round of qualifying, posting the 14th-fastest time of the session despite a last-minute run in Round 2. This marks the first time Logano failed to advance to the final round of qualifying at a non-restrictor plate track.
On his first lap in knockout qualifying, Stewart posted the 16th-fastest time of the session. Stewart’s time would eventually fall to 18th-fastest, but was enough to advance out of the first round.
Aric Almirola led the way in Round 1 of qualifying with a fast lap of 191.278 mph at 28.984 seconds, followed by Kenseth, Kyle Busch, Keselowski and Larson.
Stewart-Haas Racing’s Kurt Busch made the 24th and final transfer spot into Round 2, besting Michael Annett’s lap by 0.002 seconds.
Ty Dillon will make his first-career NASCAR Sprint Cup Series start on Sunday from the 29th starting spot.
Prior to the start of knockout qualifying a number of teams had issues getting through NASCAR technical inspection, including Jimmie Johnson’s No. 48 Chevrolet, Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s No. 88 Chevrolet, Kyle Larson’s No. 42 Chevrolet, Tony Stewart’s No. 14 Chevrolet and Joe Nemechek’s No. 77 Ford. All would eventually make it on track to record qualifying laps.
With 44 cars entered into this weekend’s event, Michael McDowell was the only car that did no qualify for Sunday’s race.