By Dave Skretta
KANSAS CITY, Kan.: It was easy for Kevin Harvick to remember what transpired the last time he sat on the pole.
For one thing, he won the race. For another, he doesn’t sit in the top spot very often.
Harvick earned his first pole since September 2006 on Friday when he turned the fastest lap at Kansas Speedway. Harvick knocked Ricky Stenhouse Jr. from the top spot and Jimmie Johnson into the second row for the fourth race in the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship.
“When you win that few poles, you can remember what happened those particular days,” Harvick said. “You know, throughout my career for whatever reason, we haven’t qualified well, and we always seem to race better than we qualify.”
Harvick, who is fourth in points, was fastest in the early practice before turning a lap of 187.526 mph in qualifying. Stenhouse was next at 187.480, and Johnson was third at 187.162.
It’s just the sixth time in 460 races that Harvick has led the field to the green flag, and ends a drought of 254 races without a pole. It’s also the first pole for Richard Childress Racing since Clint Bowyer sat on the front in September 2007, also at New Hampshire.
“It’s never been really something that honestly we put a lot of effort into to try to figure out what we needed to do,” Harvick said. “We’ve always been able to work by not qualifying well and winning races. It’s just kind of been that way.”
It certainly helps to start from the front, though, especially this week at Kansas.
The track underwent a repave last year and, combined with the new “multi-zone” tread that Goodyear has brought this weekend, track position figures to be at a premium. Drivers are hopeful of two- and three-lane racing, but Stenhouse said that it will be difficult to pass.
“I think track position is going to be very important,” he said. “We were fast here last time, led some laps and got caught by a caution on pit road.”
Stenhouse was surprised that it’d been so long since Harvick sat on the pole. After all, the Sprint Cup rookie was still racing on dirt the last time it happened.
“That’s a long time. Hopefully, we don’t go that long without a pole,” Stenhouse said. “And I really wish he still didn’t have a pole so we could have one.”
Harvick, Stenhouse and Johnson, who is second behind Matt Kenseth in points, were best able to negotiate a brutal crosswind going into Turn 3 that spoiled several promising runs.
“I felt like the lap I ran was a huge pickup and pretty dang solid,” Johnson said, “and then Ricky got me and Kevin had a little more left. Solid effort. The conditions were tough to get right with the wind blowing as hard as it is.”
The weather is expected to change again for the weekend. A front that’s coming through the area on Friday night is expected to send temperatures that reached into the 80s for qualifying into the 60s for the weekend, likely forcing everybody to retool their setups today.
That could bode well for guys who will start farther back in the field.
Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano rounded out the top five. Dale Earnhardt Jr. will start sixth, followed by Kenseth, Paul Menard, Carl Edwards and Denny Hamlin.
Kyle Busch, who is 12 points back of Kenseth in third, will start 18th. Chase contenders Jeff Gordon (14th), Ryan Newman (17th) and Greg Biffle (26th) also struggled with qualifying.
“There’s certainly room for improvement,” said Gordon, who is tied with Harvick and 39 points behind Kenseth in the standings. “I’m just happy that we picked up from where we were in practice. For these conditions, that’s a good thing.”