AVONDALE, Ariz.—The most surprising thing about Kevin Harvick’s pole at Phoenix International Raceway was that it was his first one.
Riding a tidal wave that carried him to his first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series title last year and continued with two runner-up finishes and a victory in the first three races of the current season, Harvick toured the one-mile track in the Sonoran Desert in 25.577 seconds (140.751 mph) during the final round of Friday’s knockout qualifying to win his first Coors Light Pole Award of the season and the 15th of his career.
“Every week’s just a new adventure,” said Harvick after scratching yet another item from his career bucket list. “This particular team in (crew chief) Rodney (Childers) and everybody on the team, even if we’re off, they make great adjustments and just communicate and do the things we have to do to make the car better.
“So, we don’t pay a lot of attention to the scoreboard. We just try to make our cars drive as good as we can, and in the end, that’s working out for us right now.”
Stewart-Haas Racing teammate Kurt Busch, who qualified eighth in his first event back from a three-race suspension, summed up his view of Harvick’s recent success.
“Kevin Harvick is in one of the strongest sequences that I’ve ever seen in this sport,” said the 2004 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion.
Harvick will lead the field to green in Sunday’s CampingWorld.com 500 (3:30 p.m. ET on FOX) with second-place qualifier Joey Logano (140.543 mph) beside him. For Logano, it’s a familiar spot; the driver of the No. 22 Ford also started on the outside of the first row in the first Phoenix race last year.
Logano described his car during time trials as “just a little bit on the snug side.”
“I want to be first – second’s just the first loser,” said the 2015 Daytona 500 winner. “But we definitely picked up a lot of speed when we went to qualifying trim.”
Logano hopes his team can translate some of that speed into race trim. They’ll have to do so to beat Harvick, who has won the last three races at PIR and four of the last five.
“He’s human like anyone else,” Logano said. “He’s beatable, believe me. We just have to figure out the way to do it. I feel plenty confident in my team that we can do it. We have to work hard and try to figure it out. He knows something running here – he just knows what he needs in the race car, whether he’s figuring that out in practice or it is a setup thing.
“I doubt it is a setup thing, though, because he has been fast in both cars he has driven here. I think it is something he looks for and a feel that he’s able to maintain his tires throughout a long run. I think that’s what we all strive for, to figure that part out. We have identified that is where he beats us, we have to fix it. Half the battle is figuring out where you are getting beat. We are making strides and I feel like we’re getting closer.”
Jamie McMurray qualified third at 140.422 mph, followed by Matt Kenseth (140.072 mph) and Ryan Newman (139.833 mph). Dale Earnhardt Jr. will start 16th and Danica Patrick 23rd.
Tanner Berryhill and Travis Kvapil failed to make the 43-car field.
NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Qualifying – CampingWorld.com 500
1. (4) Kevin Harvick, Chevrolet, 140.751 mph.
2. (22) Joey Logano, Ford, 140.543 mph.
3. (1) Jamie McMurray, Chevrolet, 140.422 mph.
4. (20) Matt Kenseth, Toyota, 140.072 mph.
5. (31) Ryan Newman, Chevrolet, 139.833 mph.
6. (2) Brad Keselowski, Ford, 139.817 mph.
7. (19) Carl Edwards, Toyota, 139.779 mph.
8. (41) Kurt Busch, Chevrolet, 139.665 mph.
9. (5) Kasey Kahne, Chevrolet, 139.643 mph.
10. (24) Jeff Gordon, Chevrolet, 139.535 mph.
11. (3) Austin Dillon, Chevrolet, 138.969 mph.
12. (42) Kyle Larson, Chevrolet, 138.755 mph.
13. (18) David Ragan, Toyota, 139.157 mph.
14. (17) Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Ford, 139.141 mph.
15. (78) Martin Truex Jr., Chevrolet, 138.884 mph.
16. (88) Dale Earnhardt Jr., Chevrolet, 138.814 mph.
17. (14) Tony Stewart, Chevrolet, 138.718 mph.
18. (55) Brian Vickers, Toyota, 138.654 mph.
19. (16) Greg Biffle, Ford, 138.515 mph.
20. (48) Jimmie Johnson, Chevrolet, 138.483 mph.
21. (27) Paul Menard, Chevrolet, 138.478 mph.
22. (47) AJ Allmendinger, Chevrolet, 138.430 mph.
23. (10) Danica Patrick, Chevrolet, 138.297 mph.
24. (13) Casey Mears, Chevrolet, 137.862 mph.
25. (11) Denny Hamlin, Toyota, 137.562 mph.
26. (7) Alex Bowman, Chevrolet, 137.363 mph.
27. (9) Sam Hornish Jr., Ford, 137.211 mph.
28. (51) Justin Allgaier, Chevrolet, 136.674 mph.
29. (38) David Gilliland, Ford, 136.586 mph.
30. (15) Clint Bowyer, Toyota, 136.550 mph.
31. (46) Michael Annett, Chevrolet, 136.467 mph.
32. (43) Aric Almirola, Ford, 136.405 mph.
33. (40) Landon Cassill(i), Chevrolet, 136.266 mph.
34. (98) Josh Wise, Ford, 136.245 mph.
35. (83) Matt DiBenedetto, Toyota, 135.834 mph.
36. (6) Trevor Bayne, Ford, 135.675 mph.
37. (32) Mike Bliss(i), Ford, Owner Points
38. (34) Brett Moffitt, Ford, Owner Points
39. (35) Cole Whitt, Ford, Owner Points
40. (23) JJ Yeley(i), Toyota, Owner Points
41. (26) Jeb Burton #, Toyota, Owner Points
42. (62) Brendan Gaughan(i), Chevrolet, Owner Points
43. (33) Alex Kennedy #, Chevrolet, Owner Points
Reid Spencer – NASCAR Wire Service
Image: Christian Petersen/Getty Images via NASCAR