Kevin Harvick sneaks past Chase Elliott to take the pole in the penultimate race of the 2018 NASCAR Monster Energy Series season at ISM Raceway for the Can-Am 500 with a time of 25.836 seconds at 139.340 mph.
With the penalties from last weekend’s encumbered win at Texas Motor Speedway, Harvick’s usual crew chief, Rodney Childers, is serving a two-race suspension. Interim crew chief Tony Gibson is calling the shots for the No. 4 Stewart Haas Racing team. That didn’t faze Harvick one bit.
“It’s pretty awesome to see a group of people come together — old man Tony Gibson and Nick (DeFazio, interim car chief) — coming out to fill the gaps for the suspensions,” Harvick told NBCSN. “Like I told the radio a second ago, everybody on our Busch Light Ford has been there before and we know what we need to do. This is a great race track for us. I really wasn’t expecting that. Our cars are usually a lot better in race trim than in qualifying trim, and just got fortunate to hit a good lap right there and it came at a good time.”
Throughout the three stages, Harvick wasn’t always up toward the front. In fact, all eight of the Playoff drivers were spread out across the top 21 positions, but still advancing to the second round of qualifying. Matt Kenseth quietly ran fastest and was the only driver in the 138 mph speed bracket. Austin Dillon was second fastest, with Harvick as the first Playoff contender in third.
In Round 2, half of the Playoff drivers were eliminated, including the other three Stewart Haas drivers: Kurt Busch (14th), Clint Bowyer (16th) and Aric Almirola (18th). Martin Truex Jr. missed the final round of qualifying by only three-thousandths of a second. To put it in even further perspective, positions eight through sixteen were only separated by one-tenth of a second, as the fight for the final transfer spots were a tight battle as Elliott ran fastest in the second round.
“It was a battle,” said Truex, who was 20th-fastest in Friday’s practice. “Kind of par for the course for us here lately, so I say 13th is a pretty good starting spot for the day we’ve had. I really didn’t get a good crack at anything in practice and we didn’t end up having much time and we were pretty far off. Made some good gains for sure. I wish we could’ve ran again. I definitely feel like I could pick up some more. Car was just pretty tight, so we’ll start 13th and get to work tomorrow.”
In the final round, Harvick claimed his 25th career pole by holding off Elliott, who will be clawing for every point possible in Sunday’s race and try to steal a spot in the championship race at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Ryan Blaney and Alex Bowman rounded out the top five.
“That’s not bad,” Blaney said with a shrug as he glanced at the speed charts. “We got better each round, which is good, so that was nice, but we just didn’t quite have the speed and obviously not pole speed, but it was good.”
Kyle Busch, Erik Jones, Kyle Larson, Joey Logano, Denny Hamlin, Paul Menard and Brad Keselowski completed the top 12 in the final round of qualifying.
Cody Ware, who crashed during Friday’s lone practice for the series, did not make a qualifying attempt in the Rick Ware Racing No. 51 Ford.