CONCORD, N.C. — The cream always seems to rise to the top in the biggest races, and such was the case in qualifying for Sunday night’s Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway, where Kevin Harvick took his third pole of the season.
Harvick posted a fast lap of 193.424 miles per hour in his No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford during the third and final round, good enough to claim the top qualifying spot and the crucial No. 1 pit stall that goes with it.
The pole was Harvick’s 20th in 586 career starts. And he said his car was challenging to drive.
“The cars in qualifying were a lot looser than they were in practice and just based on past experience here it was a handful through (Turns) 1 and 2,” said Harvick. “I just about lost it the first run, but the car was so good in three and four I didn’t want to over-adjust on it.”
Starting on the outside of Row 1 for the longest race on the NASCAR schedule will be Kyle Busch, last week’s winner of the Monster Energy All-Star Race. Busch wheeled his Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota to a qualifying lap of 192.513 mph.
“We’ve got performance right now, so we just got to put it all together,” said Busch, who like Harvick is looking for his first victory of the season. “It’s a long, long day. Starting up front doesn’t necessarily mean anything right now.”
Row 2 will consist of Chase Elliott’s Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet and Busch’s teammate, Matt Kenseth. Erik Jones completed the top five in the first of the Furniture Row Racing Toyotas.
In his last Coca-Cola 600, Dale Earnhardt Jr. qualified 19th. Earnhardt’s teammate, seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson was 14th.
“They were a lot different than what we anticipated,” said Johnson. “So, we just didn’t get the balance right from practice to Q (qualifying). We thought we had a good idea of what to go on based on last week and it just didn’t repeat for us like we thought, so we just missed it a little bit there.”
As has been the case on several occasions this year, pre-qualifying inspection was again an issue for some teams. The biggest name to miss qualifying was points leader Kyle Larson, who didn’t get to make an attempt because his Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet never made it through tech.
The track is dark tomorrow, but there will be two practices on Saturday, the first at 9 a.m. ET and the second at 11:30 a.m. Both practices will be televised live on FS1.