By Reid Spencer, NASCAR Wire Service
SPARTA, Ky. – Sometimes it pays extra dividends to be the points leader.
That was certainly the case on Friday afternoon, when rains earlier in the day constricted the on-track schedule at Kentucky Speedway.
Because practice time was more important to NASCAR Sprint Cup Series teams than time trials, the sanctioning body opted to cancel qualifying for Saturday night’s Quaker State 400 (7:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN) in favor of an evening practice session at the recently repaved and reconfigured 1.5-mile track.
This weekend also marks the transition from practice speeds to owner points rankings in determining the starting order for a race when time trials are cancelled because of adverse weather. Accordingly, series leader Kevin Harvick will start the race from the pole and will have first choice of pit stalls.
Brad Keselowski, last week’s winner at Daytona, will start beside Harvick on the front row, with Kurt Busch and Joey Logano occupying the third and fourth spots on the grid. Six-time series champion Jimmie Johnson will start ninth in a backup car after nailing the Turn 4 wall early in Friday’s abbreviated morning practice.
With the weather still uncertain, NASCAR scheduled a practice at 6:30 p.m. ET on Friday, leaving a small window for the Sprint Cup teams to adapt to a handful of variables. Goodyear called an audible after the June 13-14 organization test at the speedway and brought a more durable tire than the one used in the test sessions.
“Well, I think this weekend is a little bit of an unknown,” Harvick said. “We spent two days here testing, and obviously we had to make some adjustments… Goodyear had to make some adjustments to the tires coming back to make them live. I think, as we’ve gone through practice, we haven’t had any tire issues so far.
“But it changed a lot with the feel of the car and the things that you want in the car. We’ve scrambled a little bit. I felt like we were better the second time out on the race track (in Friday’s practice). I think, hopefully, being able to get some more practice will be beneficial, because we still don’t really have a good idea of exactly where we need to be as far as balance and what is going to happen the longer you run the car.”
At least the 2014 series champion will be able to do his learning on Saturday night from the front row.