Kevin Harvick is starting from the optimum position after winning the Coors Light Pole for Sunday’s AAA 400 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Dover International Speedway (2 p.m. ET on ESPN).
The question is whether the driver known as “The Closer" can finally close the deal from the front row.
Harvick covered the one-mile distance in 22.095 seconds (162.933 mph) to edge Kyle Busch (162.404 mph) for the top spot on the grid. Denny Hamlin (162.250 mph) qualified third, followed by series leader Brad Keselowski (162.140 mph), Jamie McMurray (161.936 mph) and Jeff Gordon (161.573 mph).
Entering the first elimination race in the 2014 Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup, Harvick is in little danger of missing the cut, having finished fifth and third in the first two Chase events.
But the Coors Light pole award at the Monster Mile is Harvick’s seventh of the season, and only once this year, at Darlington in April, has he won a race from the top starting spot.
The five-month absence from Victory Lane, however, isn’t weighing on Harvick.
“Not at all,” said Harvick, who won his first pole at Dover and the 13th of his career. “I’ve been around this deal way too long to complain about top-five finishes. There are a lot of circumstances that go into winning a race at a lot of these places, and you just have to keep knocking on that door.
“And then you’ll win some that you shouldn’t win, and a lot of times you don’t win the ones that you think you should have won, and you win the ones that you don’t think you should have won. So you just keep finishing in the top five or top three, and everything else will fall into place.”
Busch is solidly inside the Chase bubble, but Hamlin is 13th after last week’s star-crossed 37th-place run at New Hampshire Motor Speedway and in danger of elimination coming to a track where he expects to excel.
“I expected to come here and contend for a pole and, really, contend for a win this weekend,” Hamlin said. “No matter what happened last weekend, it didn’t affect my mind-set as far as what my expectations were when I got to this race track.
“There’s a little bit more pressure to perform this weekend, so we hope things fall our way.”
A little more pressure? How about a lot?
“This will be the hardest race that I’ll definitely ever drive—400 miles,” Hamlin acknowledged. “I’m just going to be as aggressive as I can, but not put myself in a bad position. This is the most important race of my career, because it’s the most significant of my career at this point.
“We’ve got to get the job done, and I’m going to do my part to make sure we’re successful.”
Other Chase drivers on the outside of the bubble qualified as follows: Greg Biffle, 27th; Kurt Busch, 22nd; and Aric Almirola, 21st.
Besides Harvick, Busch, Hamlin, Keselowski and Gordon, the remaining top-12 Chase drivers will start from the following positions: Jimmie Johnson, eighth; Kasey Kahne, 12th; Matt Kenseth, 14th; Joey Logano, 16th; Carl Edwards, 18th; Ryan Newman, 20th; and AJ Allmendinger, 28th.
Following Sunday's race, 12 Chase drivers will advance for the first time to the Contender Round of NASCAR's revamped 10-race playoffs.