Reigning NASCAR Sprint Cup champion Kevin Harvick continues to be the hottest driver in the sport right now, and by a wide margin.
Under beautiful clear Arizona skies on Friday afternoon, Harvick won the pole for Sunday’s CampingWorld.com 500 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Phoenix International Raceway.
The pole was Harvick’s 15th of his career and his first at the 1-mile oval, although he has crushed the competition here of late, winning four of the last five PIR Sprint Cup races, including a sweep in 2014.
In his last six races overall dating back to last season, Harvick has three race victories and three runner-up finishes in the No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet. He has firmly established himself as the man to beat both this weekend and this year.
"I didn’t actually know that we hadn’t been on pole here, but to get that first pole with these guys and celebrate anything that we hadn’t done or have done," is special, said Harvick, who had a pole lap of 140.751 miles per hour. "Every week is just a new adventure and it’s pretty special to be a part of a group of guys like this."
Joey Logano was second fast at 140.543 mph in the No. 22 Penske Racing Ford and will start on the outside of Row 1 on Sunday.
"We were just a little bit on the snug side," said Logano, who qualified on the front row for the third week in a row.
Still, Logano was frustrated afterwards. "I want to be first," Logano said. "Second’s just the first loser."
Jamie McMurray, Matt Kenseth and Ryan Newman completed the top five. Brad Keselowski qualified sixth and in his first race this year, Kurt Busch was eighth.
"Overall, just a pleasant day," said Busch. "Overwhelming support from the team, the garage area."
Among other drivers of note, Dale Earnhardt Jr. qualified 16th, Tony Stewart 17th and Danica Patrick 23rd.
Denny Hamlin and Clint Bowyer were among those who failed to make it out of the first of three rounds of qualifying. "We shouldn’t have been that close to the bubble," said Hamlin, who qualified 25th.
Asked why his car was slow, Bowyer shook his head. "Hell, if I knew that, we’d fix it," said Bowyer, who qualified 30th.
Pre-qualifying inspection continued to be an issue, though less than in weeks past. The cars of Kurt Busch, JJ Yeley, Kevin Harvick, Alex Bowman, Michael Annett and Justin Allgaier all failed inspection twice, but passed on the third try.
Matt DiBenedetto’s car flunked three times and made it through on the fourth. Per NASCAR’s new policy enacted earlier this week, DiBenetto will have to serve a 15-minute penalty in the first round of practice next week at Auto Club Speedway.
Failing to qualify were Tanner Berryhill and Travis Kvapil.
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