Kevin Harvick: Expect drivers to have “a lot of different agendas” in ‘Dega quals

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NASCAR’s upcoming visit to Talladega Superspeedway will also mark the first time that the knockout-style qualifying format has been used for a restrictor plate track.

At 2.66 miles in length, Talladega comes in well above the 1.25-mile track length line of demarcation. Thus, competitors will go through the three-round version of the format.

Drivers will have to use the draft at 200+ miles per hour like they do in the races, so they can post times fast enough to keep them advancing through the qualifying rounds.

And that means we’ll be for a much different qualifying show than what we’ve seen so far this season.

“As you take it to the superspeedways, it could be very unique for the fact that everyone’s going to try to get those huge runs from the back of the pack,” Stewart-Haas Racing’s Kevin Harvick said in a release.

“So, you’re going to have a lot of different agendas. The timing of when you make your runs is going to be a little bit different.

“There are going to be some interesting moments, I would say, as we go through qualifying, but I think it’s going to be exciting compared to what we’re used to.”

Harvick, who has won multiple times on restrictor plate tracks, believes that the approach to how he’ll handle Sunday’s Aaron’s 499 will come down to how he fares in the qualifying session on Saturday.

However, as his two victories at Phoenix and Darlington have virtually sealed his place in the Chase for the Sprint Cup, that does make it easier for him to simply go for it.

“A lot of these tracks, if you can qualify decent and race up front with the current rules package, I think it’s better to stay up front and try to keep yourself there throughout the day,” he said. “Obviously, if you don’t qualify well, you go with the opposite strategy.

“For us, having a couple of wins in the bank, I think you race as hard as you can all day to try and keep yourself up front and have a complete day of hopefully keeping the car rolling when it’s time to be around at the end.”

Regardless of where he qualifies, Harvick is hopeful that he’ll have more speed in his No. 4 SHR Chevrolet than what he felt he had in it during Daytona Speedweeks in February.

Harvick rose from 38th on the Daytona 500 grid to finish 13th, but he says that was more to do with pit strategy and good stops.

“I know the guys were working on finding some speed and making the cars a little better before we headed off to Talladega,” he added. “It’s a constant progression. I felt like we had a little bit of a lack of speed but I think, by the time we get to Talladega, we will have found that.

“Hopefully, that will allow us to be a little bit better than we were at Daytona.”

Josef Newgarden wins pole for Grand Prix of Alabama

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With time running off the clock, Josef Newgarden lapped Barber Motorsports Park with a speed of 122.773 mph to win his third career pole and first on this track in the Grand Prix of Alabama.

Newgarden was .0128 seconds faster than teammate Scott Dixon in second.

Newgarden has two previous wins at Barber. He won last year’s edition of this race after starting seventh and in 2015 from fifth.

“I didn’t know if that was going to be enough,” Newgarden said after winning the pole.

“Team Chevy has done a good job,” Newgarden said. “They’ve really given us good power this weekend – good driveability. We’re going to need some fuel mileage tomorrow, which I think we’ll have. But it’s going to get mixed up with the rain.”

Dixon’s lap of 122.750 mph was not quite enough.

“I’m sure you could pick out a number of different things on a lap when it’s that close,” Power said about what made the slight difference between him and Newgarden. “A little mistake out of 9; a little lift here or there.”

Sebastien Bourdais (122.605 mph) qualified third, with Ryan Hunter-Reay (122.159) and James Hinchliffe (121.859) rounding out the top five.

Scott Dixon was the last driver in the top six.

Fast 12

Newgarden topped this chart with a speed of 123.475 mph.

He brought Power, James Hinchcliffe, Scott Dixon, Ryan Hunter-Reay, and Sebastien Bourdais along with him to the Fast 6.

Marco Andretti (122.480), Alexander Rossi (122.216), Simon Pagenaud (122.050), Robert Wickens (122.042), Zach Veach (121.784) and Ed Jones (120.984) failed to advance.

Round 1, Group 1

Newgarden posted the fastest single lap in round one, group one of qualification for the Grand Prix of Alabama with a speed of 122.550 mph.

Hunter-Reay, Hinchcliffe, Wickens, and Andretti also advance to the fast 12.

Taking the final slot was Jones with a speed of 119.835 mph after an off-course excursion in final practice.

This was Andretti’s first advancement to the fast 12 for the first time since 2014.

Round 1, Group 2

Power had the fastest lap of 121.570 mph.

Bourdais, Veach (who is battling food poisoning-like symptoms), Rossi, and Pagenaud grabbed positions 2-4.

Scott Dixon had an uncharacteristically slow lap of 121.006, but managed to advance to the fast 12 when the session was red-flagged for an incident involving Tony Kanaan.

With three minutes remaining, Kanaan spun into the tire barriers while leaving pit road. Since he brought out the red flag, he lost his qualification time of 119.996 mph.

Takuma Sato had slipped off-course midway through the session and posted only the Ninth-fastest speed of 120.789 mph.