Kevin Harvick knew he didn’t have the fastest car for Friday’s knockout qualifying session at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
But Harvick also predicted that the fastest car wouldn’t win the pole for Sunday’s Pennzoil 400 at the 1.5-mile track (3:30 p.m. ET on FOX, PRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).
He was right. When the cars crossed the stripe as the seconds ticked down in the final round, it was Harvick who had the pole-winning lap at 180.517 mph (29.914 seconds), edging Daytona 500 winner Denny Hamlin for the top starting spot by .010 seconds.
Austin Dillon had the fastest car in practice, and in Harvick’s estimation, the fastest car for qualifying, too. But Dillon could do no better than fourth in the 12-car draft that constituted the money round.
“The fastest car in qualifying trim is fourth,” said Harvick, who won his first pole at Las Vegas, his first of the season and the 26th of his career. “I told them before we qualified today that the fastest car would not get the pole today. In the final round it was going to come down to where you were at.
“It’s definitely different. It’s one of those situations where you don’t really know where you need to be. I had never drafted, really, in these cars. They’re a lot faster than they were in the All-Star Race (last year), and the close-up rate was so fast.
“We were able to run the bottom coming to the start of the second lap (in the final round), and that got us to the start/finish line in time to make it (before time expired). Definitely a little bit of luck involved there, but the guys have done a great job, really advancing in the last two weeks in getting what we need in these race cars.”
With NASCAR’s new competition package in play, this was no ordinary single-car qualifying session. In the final round, all 12 of the pole-eligible cars waited until the last possible second in the five-minute period to start their runs.
That cost Alex Bowman and Chase Elliott, who didn’t make it to the start/finish line to start a second lap before time ran out. Both Bowman and Elliott were faster than Harvick, but their times were not allowed, with Bowman missing the five-minute deadline by a half-second and Elliott getting to the stripe just over a second too late.
Harvick’s no. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford was the last car to make it to the line under the wire.
Las Vegas native Kyle Busch (179.706 mph) qualified third, followed by Dillon and Richard Childress Racing teammate Daniel Hemric. David Ragan, Kyle Larson, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Jimmie Johnson and Joey Logano claimed starting positions six through 10, respectively.
Bowman and Elliott were 11th and 12th after failing to make a second lap before time ran out.
“It got a little crazy, but it’s the games that you’re going to play through the whole thing of just trying to put yourself in the right position, be the right distance behind and still have your car handling properly,” Hamlin said of the new qualifying format.
“It will be interesting going forward. Certainly will be some attrition here and there, but as long as it’s more exciting, we’re all for it.”