BROOKLYN, Mich. – Kevin Harvick had his sights set on a clean sweep of knockout qualifying at Michigan International Speedway—until Kasey Kahne had other ideas late in Friday’s final round.
Kahne sped around the two-mile track in 35.645 seconds (201.992 mph) to knock Harvick off the pole for Sunday’s Quicken Loans 400 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race (1 p.m. ET on FOX Sports 1).
Harvick, who posted a 201.613 mph lap in the final session, had topped the charts in the first two rounds, matching Kahne’s pole-winning time in the second.
The Coors Light Pole Award was Kahne’s third of the season and the 27th of his career—but his first since the October 2012 Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Kansas Speedway.
Brad Keselowski (201.449 mph) qualified third, followed by Carl Edwards (201.067 mph) and Ryan Blaney (201.056 mph), who is running a partial schedule in the No. 21 Wood Brothers Ford.
With a 2012 repaving project having narrowed the racing groove at Michigan, Kahne underscored the value of starting up front—and staying there.
“It’s going to be really important,” said Kahne, who also gets the benefit of selecting pit stall No. 1., closest to the exit from pit road. “The track is going to change a lot, though, come Sunday, with all the racing going on this weekend and then our practices (on Saturday).
“The track will be a lot different Sunday. So, there will be some passing for sure, but it’s not going to be easy. So track position will play a big role in being there at the end of the race.”
Harvick remains the only driver to sweep all three rounds of qualifying at a single track, a feat he accomplished last year at Michigan and Indianapolis, but he fell .067 seconds of doing so for a third time.
“I don’t know that I got everything out of it (the final lap), but the rounds were within seven hundredths (of a second) of each other,” Harvick said. “The guys were doing a great job, and Kasey just got a little bit better lap there than we did.”
With possible rain in the forecast, Blaney was nervous as qualifying approached, but not because of the competition. If rain had washed out time trials, the Wood Brothers’ car would not have made the field, based on fewest qualifying attempts this season—a product of a limited schedule.
“It was funny the way it played out,” Blaney said. “It looked like two cells coming at us (on the radar), and a small slit in the middle of them, and we passed right through that slit. That was just kind of lucky for us.
“Like I said, it would have stung knowing how good of a car we had in practice if qualifying rained out. We’re fortunate to get it in, and it’s a bonus to have a good race car.”
Brendan Gaughan, who unlike Blaney would have benefited from a rainout, failed to make the 43-car field.
Reid Spencer – NASCAR Wire Service
Image: Chris Trotman/Getty Images