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Kevin Harvick wins pole, Joey Logano starts second for Saturday’s Sprint Cup race at Darlington

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It’s no secret that Kevin Harvick has struggled since winning the second race of the 2014 Sprint Cup season at Phoenix.

But Saturday night’s Bojangles’ Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway could be where Harvick begins his comeback.

He certainly got off on the right foot in Friday evening’s qualifying, being one of 16 drivers to break the 1.366-mile, egg-shaped oval’s track record with a speed of 183.479 to earn the pole for Saturday’s race.

“I don’t know if you ever get a perfect lap at Darlington,” Harvick said. “This is a track that’s fun to drive, but every lap is different and a challenge.

“Our team has dealt with a lot of adversity over the weeks, but they’ve kept their focus and done what they had to do to keep putting good race cars on the track.”

It was only the seventh pole (and his first ever at Darlington) in 474 starts in Harvick’s Sprint Cup career.

What’s more, in a season that has seen seven different winners in as many races, Harvick also becomes the eighth different qualifier in the first eight events.

“You know when they qualify that good – and I’m not the world’s greatest qualifier – the car’s pretty good,” Harvick said with a smile.

Harvick bested Joey Logano, who earned yet another front row spot this season with a speed of 183.049 mph.

Logano may have had a little bit extra to potentially wrestle the pole away from Harvick, but his car started losing its grip and he backed off so as not to wreck.

“When in doubt, throttle out, that’s my motto,” Logano said. “This is such a fast race track. You have to have so much guts to go fast here.

“It’s a lot of fun. Qualifying is probably the most fun thing we do all weekend. It’s just so much on the edge, and you make a little mistake, you’re in the wall. If you go a little bit too careful, then you’re mad at yourself for not going fast enough. It’s such a fine line of going fast here.”

Richard Petty Motorsports continued to impress, putting both its drivers on the second row. Aric Almirola (182.946) will start alongside teammate Marcos Ambrose (182.485).

Sprint Cup points leader Jeff Gordon will start ninth. The four-time Cup champ has eight top-five finishes in his last 10 starts at Darlington.

And what’s more, Gordon is the winningest active driver at the track also called “The Lady In Black” with seven triumphs. NASCAR Hall of Famer David Pearson leads all drivers in Darlington history with 10 wins there.

Defending race winner Matt Kenseth had a rough qualifying effort and will start in the 13th role from the 25th position, alongside six-time Sprint Cup champ and three-time Darlington winner Jimmie Johnson.

Only one driver failed to qualify: David Reutimann.

Here’s the starting grid for Saturday night’s Bojangles’ Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway:

Row 1

Kevin Harvick 182.485 mph, Joey Logano 182.059

Row 2

Aric Almirola 182.946, Marcos Ambrose 182.485

Row 3

Brad Keselowski 182.059, Jamie McMurray 182.019

Row 4

Ryan Newman 181.985, Kyle Busch 181.763

Row 5

Jeff Gordon 181.756, Denny Hamlin 181.548

Row 6

Paul Menard 181.481, Martin Truex Jr. 181.200

Row 7

Kurt Busch 182.181, Brian Vickers 181.985

Row 8

Dale Earnhardt Jr. 181.689, Clint Bowyer 181.247

Row 9

Kyle Larson 181.194, AJ Allmendinger 181.127

Row 10

Greg Biffle 180.947, Austin Dillon 180.914

Row 11

Carl Edwards 180.901, Kasey Kahne 180.787

Row 12

Tony Stewart 180.185, Justin Allgaier 178.958

Row 13

Matt Kenseth 182.059, Jimmie Johnson 181.911

Row 14

David Gilliland 181.548, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. 181.394

Row 15

Josh Wise 180.549, Michael Annett 180.330

Row 16

Casey Mears 180.310, David Ragan 180.204

Row 17

Danica Patrick 180.158, Alex Bowman 179.993

Row 18

Landon Cassill 179.717, Dave Blaney 179.606

Row 19

David Stremme 179.024, Parker Kligerman 178.543

Row 20

Ryan Truex 178.400, Reed Sorenson 177.961

Row 21

Travis Kvapil 177.768, Cole Whitt 177.659

Row 22

Joe Nemechek 177.166

DNQ: David Reutimann

Follow me @JerryBonkowski

IndyCar 2015 Driver Review: Gabby Chaves

Gabby Chaves
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MotorSportsTalk continues its run through the driver-by-driver field in the Verizon IndyCar Series. In 15th and the rookie-of-the-year for 2015, was Gabby Chaves.

Gabby Chaves, No. 98 Bryan Herta Autosport Honda

  • 2014: Indy Lights champion
  • 2015: 15th Place, Best Finish 9th, Best Start 12th, 0 Top-5, 2 Top-10, 31 Laps Led, 19.3 Avg. Start, 14.4 Avg. Finish

Some drivers finish better than their performances show. Some drivers have performances better than their results show. The latter statement applied to Gabby Chaves in his rookie year, in what was an impressive first season after making the step up from Indy Lights, which deservedly earned him rookie-of-the-year honors.

The best comparison I’d make for Gabby is of Josef Newgarden in 2012 with Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing, a first-year driver on a single-car, newish team to the series.

Chaves rarely dazzled in qualifying but that wasn’t his fault; he and engineer John Dick worked well together and Chaves recounted multiple times this year that a tweak here or tweak there, the wrong way, on the aero kit would send them down the wrong setup path.

Results in races didn’t measure up either but again that was through almost no fault of his own. The only time Chaves looked truly like a rookie was at St. Pete, when he had several collisions. Otherwise he was ahead of eventual winner James Hinchcliffe at NOLA before getting punted off, reliable through the month of May in Indianapolis, finally able to break through for a ninth place in Detroit race two, overachieving in Texas, 11th at Milwaukee after some great wheel-to-wheel racing with series winners and champions, and then phenomenal at Pocono as he was on course for a first career win or podium before late-race engine issues – his first DNF of the season.

For both Chaves and Herta, you’d love to see them together for another season, and the results and confidence for both parties will grow as a result. Those who’ve seen Newgarden’s rise over four years with Fisher and now CFH will note the long-term stability, and that’s what Chaves could do if he gets the time.

He planted the seed of being a great IndyCar driver, and he became pretty versatile during the year too with additional appearances in the DeltaWing prototype, a short-track midget and one of Herta’s Red Bull Global Rallycross cars. To boot, he’s a smart, great kid who is mature beyond his years, and someone you should be buying stock in now. Anyone who saw Chaves in the Mazda Road to Indy should not have been surprised by his rookie season in the big cars.

Off The Grid: Monza preview (premieres Saturday 10/10 on NBCSN)

F1 Grand Prix of Italy
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Having already taken you behind the scenes in Barcelona, Budapest, Singapore, Melbourne and Silverstone, Will Buxton and Jason Swales now head to one of Formula 1’s most iconic venues for the latest episode of Off The Grid.

Monza has appeared in all but one F1 season since the formation of the world championship in 1950, and is a firm favorite among drivers, teams and fans alike.

However, there is far more to the Italian Grand Prix than meets the eye, as we find out in Saturday’s premiere of Off The Grid: Monza at 9:30am ET (follows Russian GP qualifying).

Having honed his talents in go-karts as a kid, Red Bull driver Daniel Ricciardo is now trying to pass on his knowledge to the next generation of racers. But can he teach Will or Jason a thing or two?

We also catch up with Force India’s Nico Hulkenberg and get a feel for life on the road as he takes us for a tour of his lavish bus in which he travels in for the European F1 races.

Have you ever wondered just how the suits F1 drivers wear are made? We go behind the scenes at Alpine Stars’ factory in Italy and find out.

Off The Grid: Monza premieres on Saturday at 9:30am ET on NBCSN following Russian GP qualifying.