Kevin Harvick wins pole for Sprint Cup at Kansas

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For only the sixth time in his entire career – and the first time since the 2006 fall race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway – Kevin Harvick will lead a NASCAR Sprint Cup field to the green flag this weekend.

Harvick, who sits fourth in the Chase for the Sprint Cup at 39 points behind leader Matt Kenseth, earned the pole for Sunday’s Hollywood Casino 400 at Kansas Speedway – the fourth race of this year’s post-season stretch – with a lap of 187.526 miles per hour in the No. 29 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet.

In that 2006 race at the “Magic Mile,” Harvick converted the pole into a win. Considering the points gap between himself and Kenseth, he may need to do that again in order to make any gains against the 2003 Cup champion in the title picture.

Harvick is one of six Chase contenders that will line up within the Top 10 positions on Sunday’s grid. Jimmie Johnson, who moved into second place in the championship with his win last week at Dover, qualified third, followed by Joey Logano in fifth, Dale Earnhardt Jr. in sixth, Kenseth in seventh, and Carl Edwards in ninth.

As for the rest of the Chasers, Jeff Gordon qualified 14th, Kasey Kahne in 15th, Ryan Newman in 17th, Kyle Busch in 18th, Kurt Busch in 19th, Clint Bowyer in 22nd, and Greg Biffle in 26th.

Roush Fenway rookie Ricky Stenhouse Jr. was the fastest of the non-Chase drivers in qualifying, and will start alongside Harvick on the front row after putting down a lap of 187.480 miles per hour.

Fernando Alonso likes NASCAR country, but he’s not leaving F1 any time soon

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) Jimmie Johnson strolled into the Charlotte Convention Center and did a double-take when he saw Fernando Alonso hanging out in a hallway.

“What’s he doing here?” NASCAR’s seven-time champion wondered.

Alonso made the trip to North Carolina to make an appearance at NASCAR’s annual preseason media tour. No, a ride in NASCAR is not imminent, but the two-time Formula One champion is about to embark on his first major sports car race .

Alonso will race this weekend in the Rolex 24 Hours at Daytona for United Autosports, the sports car team owned by his McLaren F1 boss, Zak Brown. It was Brown who paved the way for Alonso to compete in last year’s Indianapolis 500, and he is helping the Spaniard knock prestigious races off his wish list.

Alonso spent about 10 minutes chatting with Johnson, and the duo was eventually joined by sports car aces Scott Pruett and Joey Hand, who were brought to the NASCAR event by IMSA to help promote the Rolex, and then Cup champion Kevin Harvick.

The meet-and-greet with Alonso was a thrill for Johnson. Alonso was equally impressed.

“The first time I heard his name it was probably 2003 on the NASCAR video game,” Alonso said Tuesday. “I used to choose him, not knowing him, just because of the car. I remember playing with another friend of mine, he likes a chocolate company I will not name now, and he was choosing that car and I was choosing Jimmie’s car.

“But that was the first time I heard of him, and obviously the success that he has in the years in motor racing, he became a legend of our sport, and massive respect.”

Johnson said he’s always been a fan of Alonso’s and spent some time telling Alonso how well he ran in the Indianapolis 500 last May. Alonso led 27 laps and seemed to be in contention for the win until his engine expired 21 laps from the finish.

“He handled himself so well, really did a great job, and I think brought a lot to the table,” Johnson said. “He brought worldwide attention to motorsports and it was really good for us here stateside.”

While in NASCAR country, Alonso was asked about potentially trying a stock car someday. It’s not something that could happen soon, he said, but it is something he’d like to at least attempt.

“Right now, it looks quite far. The driving technique and the experience all those guys have, it’s difficult for me to achieve that level,” Alonso said. “I will never know until I try, so I would like one day to test a car and after that, driving the car, I will know how enjoyable it will be in racing.

“Outside (watching), the races are great because they are all in a group, it is not predictable at all and until the last lap, you don’t know what is going to happen. We love watching from the outside, but I don’t know from the inside.”

Alonso has so far only had three days of testing at Daytona in the sports car to adjust to a closed cockpit, as well as driving at night and in traffic. Trying different series has been a thrill for him, and he’s still eyeing a way to get Le Mans on his schedule.

“It’s one thing that I would like to do, I would like to compete in the best races in the world, and Le Mans and is one of the top races,” he said. “If that day will be this year or not is still to be discussed, but maybe yes.”

More AP Auto Racing: https://racing.ap.org/