Harvick sets new track record in early qualifying at Texas, but Stewart grabs first pole since 2012

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Texas Motor Speedway on Saturday became the fastest 1.5-mile track for pole qualifying in Sprint Cup history, and Kevin Harvick was the man who did it.

But Harvick will not start on the pole in Sunday’s Duck Commander 500. Instead, his Stewart-Haas Racing teammate and boss, Tony Stewart, will take the green flag first.

Confused?

Harvick set his mark of 198.282 mph in the first round of qualifying, but was unable to come close to posting a comparable speed in the second (24 cars) or final 12-round session.

Still, Harvick ultimately qualified third in the final round of knockout competition and will start right behind Stewart, who recorded his first Sprint Cup pole since Sept. 2012 and his 15th career pole overall.

“This thing was fast every round,” Stewart said. “I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to hold on. It felt really fast up to (turns) three and four and then it got really loose the last half of the corner. This Chevy was fast today.”

This marks the first time there have been seven different pole qualifiers in as many races to start a season since 1998, according to NASCAR statisticians.

Even though it didn’t get the pole, Ford dominated in the final round of qualifying, putting six drivers in the top 10 starting positions.

With Stewart on the pole at 195.454 mph, the rest of the top 10 starters are: Brad Keselowski (195.397), Harvick (195.312), Greg Biffle (194.700), Carl Edwards (194.637), Denny Hamlin (194.623), Trevor Bayne (194.503), Ryan Newman (194.140), Marcos Ambrose (194.063) and Joey Logano (193.743).

Last week’s race winner at Martinsville, Kurt Busch, was fastest in morning practice but qualified 11th (193.126), still giving SHR three drivers in the top 11.

Of note, Jimmie Johnson failed to qualify for the final knockout round of 12, making it the first time this season that he hasn’t reached that round. Johnson will start 16th (194.007).

Logano remains as the only driver who has made the final round of qualifying in each of the first seven races thus far.

Sprint Cup points leader Dale Earnhardt Jr. qualified 19th (193.354).

Austin Dillon was battling flu-like symptoms Saturday, but still made his qualifying run, ending up 20th (193.154). Younger brother Ty took a handful of laps during Saturday morning’s practice and is on standby if needed for his sibling in Sunday’s race.

Four drivers failed to qualify: David Stremme, JJ Yeley, Joe Nemechek and Ryan Treux.

Also, there were no mishaps in qualifying, just like Saturday’s mishap-free happy hour practice.

Harvick’s 198.282 mph blast around TMS in the opening round of the three-round qualifying session put him nearly a full one second fastest than the previous fastest 1.5-mile pole qualifying speed (197.478 mph by Geoff Bodine, Atlanta, Nov. 1997).

The next fastest pole speed for a 1.5-mile track is Denny Hamlin at Charlotte in May 2013 (195.624), followed by Joey Logano at Las Vegas last month (193.278) and Matt Kenseth at Kansas (191.864 in April 2013).

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Here’s the starting grid for Sunday’s Duck Commander 500 at Texas Motor Speedway

Row 1

Tony Stewart 195.454 mph, Brad Keselowski 195.419

Row 2

Kevin Harvick 195.298, Greg Biffle 194.700

Row 3

Carl Edwards 194.637, Denny Hamlin 194.623

Row 4

Trevor Bayne 194.503, Ryan Newman 194.140

Row 5

Marcos Ambrose 194.056, Joey Logano 193.743

Row 6

Kurt Busch 193.126, Jeff Gordon 192.089

Row 7

Paul Menard 194.259, Kyle Larson 194.084

Row 8

Jamie McMurray 194.021, Jimmie Johnson 194.007

Row 9

Aric Almirola 193.590, Martin Truex Jr. 193.493

Row 10

Dale Earnhardt Jr. 193.354, Austin Dillon 193.154

Row 11

Casey Mears 193.154, Justin Allgaier 192.981

Row 12

Brian Vickers 192.768, Danica Patrick 192.761

Row 13

Clint Bowyer 194.988, Matt Kenseth 194.637

Row 14

Michael Annett 194.602, Michael McDowell 194.581

Row 15

Kyle Busch 194.539, Alex Bowman 194.454

Row 16

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. 194.440, Kasey Kahne 194.028

Row 17

AJ Allmendinger 193.611, David Reutimann 192.954

Row 18

Dave Blaney 192.520, Parker Kligerman 192.219

Row 19

Travis Kvapil 192.171, Reed Sorenson 191.748

Row 20

David Gillland 191.625, Landon Cassill 191.408

Row 21

Josh Wise 191.232, Cole Whitt 189.036

Row 22

David Ragan 187.839

Cooper solidifies PWC GT presence with Callaway Corvette

Callaway, Cooper, Gill. Photo: PWC
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Pirelli World Challenge could use a “face” of the series from a driving standpoint, and American Michael Cooper is a good candidate to fill that role for 2018.

Cooper, 27, has won PWC Touring Car, GTS and, most recently the SprintX GT titles within the series and has quickly blossomed into one of the series’ top GT stars.

It’s been a rapid rise for the Syosset, N.Y. native, entering into a world filled with series stars and champions such as Johnny O’Connell, Patrick Long, Alvaro Parente and a host of others.

But under O’Connell’s tutelage, Cooper admirably filled the rather gaping shoes vacated by Andy Pilgrim at Cadillac Racing, steering the Cadillac ATS-V.R to multiple race wins in the last two years – including a sweep of this year’s season finale weekend at Sonoma.

Cooper and Jordan Taylor were the model of consistency in SprintX this year, winning once at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park and surviving contact at Circuit of The Americas to take that title.

With Cadillac withdrawing its ATS-V.R program at the end of the year though, Cooper was left a free agent for 2018. Fortunately with one door closed another opened, in the form of the GM-blessed but full Callaway Competition USA effort with its Callaway Corvette C7 GT3-R that will come Stateside next year. Cooper and Daniel Keilwitz will be in the team’s two cars for the full season; the car was fully unveiled last week at the PRI Show in Indianapolis.

The Callaway is a proven commodity in Europe but couldn’t run in the U.S. unless the path was cleared by one of GM’s factory programs to end a direct, potential head-to-head competition.

Moving from the Cadillac to the Callaway Corvette should be a natural transition, Cooper said last week.

“It worked out incredibly well that GM decided to allow Calloway to run the car in the United States and it created an opportunity for me that wouldn’t have been there otherwise,” he told NBC Sports. “I talked to a lot of other GT teams and at the end of the day, I felt like this was the best direction for me to be competitive next year and to also continue furthering my career with General Motors.”

Indeed Cooper has graduated from the Blackdog Speed Shop Chevrolet Camaro Z/28.R in GTS to the Cadillac and now to the Callaway Corvette. Cooper hailed the Cadillac team for what they did for his career growth.

“Working with Cadillac Racing has been instrumental in developing my abilities both on and off the track,” he said. “So I’m definitely a much more well-rounded driver now and have a lot of experience in the World Challenge GT field, so I kind of know what to expect going into that first race and going into that first corner in St. Pete.”

As noted, the car’s success in Europe means it’s a well-oiled machine by the time Reeves Callaway has worked with PWC to bring it Stateside next year. And as Cooper explained, discussions had been underway for a bit of time to ensure his presence in this car and team.

“I think the car is going to be extremely capable. It’s already won championships and races in Europe. I think, in bringing it over here, we’re going to hit the ground running straight away,” he said.

“Calloway had wanted me to come drive for them in July or August. We always kept in touch since then, and there was a lot of work trying to put together a program before they decided that they were going to do a fully fledged factory program. So once they made that decision, I think the pieces were kind of in place already, and the conversations had been had to be able to say ‘You’re going to be our guy.’”

December is late for IMSA programs to get finalized, but it’s relatively early for PWC, with the season not starting until mid-March in St. Petersburg. An extensive testing program should follow, as Callaway establishes its U.S. base and infrastructure.

“It’s definitely early for a Pirelli World Challenge program to be announced in December when we start racing in March. So that’s very good,” he said. “But, the team has a lot of work ahead of them in terms of getting infrastructure set up here in the United States, because a lot of their racing program has been in Europe. So, there will be a testing program, but they have to get the infrastructure in place first. But, we’ll be well prepared for St. Pete, I’m certain of it.

“Last year was the first year when I could sit back, kick my feet up, and know what I was doing next year. So, to be able to have everything done and be able to announce it this early on makes my life less stressful and now I can just focus on preparing myself and my team for next year.”