Freaky Fast yet again: Kevin Harvick wins Sprint Cup pole at Kansas, Joey Logano alongside

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The only drivers in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series to have two wins thus far this season — Kevin Harvick and Joey Logano – will start from the front row in Saturday’s Five-Hour Energy 400 Benefiting the Special Operations Warrior Foundation at Kansas Speedway.

Harvick once again lived up to his “Freaky Fast” nickname, taking his second pole of the season in his Stewart Haas Racing Chevrolet with a top speed of 194.252 mph, a new track record. It was also Harvick’s second career pole at Kansas.

“My qualifying record hasn’t been great, but they’ve really done a good job in getting our qualifying stuff situated after the first four or five weeks of the season,” Harvick said of his No. 4 SHR crew. “To come here and sit on the pole, I thought I had screwed it up. I never got through (turns) 3 and 4 how I wanted to. I felt like I got through 1 and 2 all three laps pretty good, but 3 and 4 was a little bit too tight. I got a little bit concerned, but all-in-all, it worked out okay.”

Harvick and all three of his other Stewart Haas Racing teammates qualified within the top nine spots.

Logano wasn’t far behind Harvick, as his Team Penske Ford also broke the old track mark at 193.910 mph, part of a three-driver Ford juggernaut from second- to fourth-place.

“We got a lot of second-place qualifying efforts, which I mean isn’t the end of the world,” Logano said. “It’s just I really like winning and second kinda blows. But overall, we have a real good starting spot, we can see the track from there and we’ll go for it.”

Logano’s Team Penske teammate, Brad Keselowski, qualified third (193.507 mph), followed by Roush Fenway Racing driver Carl Edwards (193.188).

Rookie Kyle Larson (193.050) will start fifth, followed by Kurt Busch (sixth, 193.043), Ryan Newman (seventh, 192.816), Tony Stewart (eighth, 192.548), Danica Patrick (ninth, 192.452) and Greg Biffle (10th, 191.980).

Also of note in the qualifying session:

* Rookie Ryan Blaney, making his first attempt to qualify for a Sprint Cup race, made the field in 21st place.

* Sprint Cup points leader Jeff Gordon will start 13th, alongside Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jimmie Johnson in 14th.

* Kansas native Clint Bowyer, still seeking his first career win on his “home track,” qualified a disappointing 23rd.

* While proud that his son made the field, sadly, dad Dave Blaney was the odd man out, the only driver to fail to make the 43-driver field for Saturday’s race.

Here’s the unofficial starting grid for Saturday’s 5-Hour Energy 400 at Kansas Speedway:

Row 1 Kevin Harvick, Joey Logano

Row 2 Brad Keselowski, Carl Edwards

Row 3 Kyle Larson, Kurt Busch

Row 4 Ryan Newman, Tony Stewart

Row 5 Danica Patrick, Greg Biffle

Row 6 Jamie McMurray, Aric Almirola

Row 7 Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson

Row 8 Brian Vickers, Paul Menard

Row 9 Kasey Kahne, Justin Allgaier

Row 10 Austin Dillon, Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

Row 11 Ryan Blaney, Dale Earnhardt Jr.

Row 12 Clint Bowyer, Kyle Busch

Row 13 Marcos Ambrose, Martin Truex Jr.

Row 14 Casey Mears, Matt Kenseth

Row 15 AJ Allmendinger, Denny Hamlin

Row 16 Ryan Truex, Josh Wise

Row 17 Alex Bowman, Michael Annett

Row 18 J.J. Yeley, Cole Whitt

Row 19 Reed Sorenson, David Ragan

Row 20 David Gilliland, Landon Cassill

Row 21 Travis Kvapil, Timmy Hill

Row 22 Joe Nemecheck

Failed to qualify: Dave Blaney

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‘Game-changing’ multi-year agreement will take INDYCAR, NBC Sports ‘to the next level’


NEW YORK – As the fourth Nor’easter in three weeks bore down on the Big Apple, it was tough to spot people that were clearly in a good mood.

But Jon Miller, president of programming for NBC Sports and NBCSN, was clearly in a good mood.

On Wednesday morning at 10 am ET, we all found out why: NBC will become the exclusive home of the IndyCar Series and the Indianapolis 500, starting in 2019.

The new three-year deal not only makes “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing” part of the network’s “Championship Season” – its collection of high-profile championship events from May to July – but also reaffirms NBC’s status as the home of motorsports television in the United States.

That status is something Miller doesn’t take for granted.

“It’s important people know that storytelling is in our DNA, and motorsports lends itself very well to storytelling,” Miller said as he, INDYCAR CEO Mark Miles and driver James Hinchcliffe made a snowy trek to the New York Stock Exchange to promote the deal on CNBC’s “Squawk on the Street.”

“We’ve had great success with the second half of the entire NASCAR season, and then we’ve had half of the IndyCar package [since 2009] … But we never had the real meat of the series and that didn’t set anybody up for success.

“Having the entire package of IndyCar now – all 17 races, qualifying, practice, you name it – really sets IndyCar on a strong path and solidifies NBC’s position as the home of motorsports. I think it becomes a property much like the Premier League, the NHL, and even the Olympics and the Triple Crown. We have 100 percent of the media opportunity and we can put all those great assets behind it.”

With the storm no doubt keeping some traders home, the floor of the NYSE was relatively subdued. But that made it no less important to be at the heart of Wall Street. Miles and his team are pursuing a new title sponsor for the IndyCar Series to replace Verizon, which will fully focus its efforts in the series with the powerhouse Team Penske going forward in 2019.

The new deal – which includes 8 races per year on the NBC network (with the remaining races going to NBCSN), live streaming of all races, and a direct-to-consumer package with NBC Sports Gold – gave Miles plenty to push for any potential backers. As for Hinchcliffe, he held his own nicely in an interview that also explored IndyCar’s global ambitions, the impact of technology on the sport, and of course, his spin around the ballroom on “Dancing with the Stars.”

On the ride back to 30 Rock, Miles was confident that NBC can play a big role in attracting a sponsor that can help the series keep growing.

“With respect to our work in finding the best title sponsor, it’s really important – and this has not been talked about much – but we expect to work with hand in glove with NBC’s sales,” he explained. “We have the opportunity to create packages which are both broadcast sponsorship and series sponsorship, I think, in a way that doesn’t come along very often.

“Usually, the media deal and the sponsorship deal doesn’t align like this, so we’re really excited about the offering we’ll have and the approach to the market we can take.”

Should the partnership with NBC bear fruit on that front and others, it will only add to the upswing that the IndyCar Series has had in recent years.

Hinchcliffe has been a witness to that. He entered the series in 2011, when it was trying to find its footing after the sport’s reunification three years earlier. After 13 years of CART vs. the Indy Racing League, getting everything back under one roof was not a smooth process.

But fast-forward seven years, and things have changed for the better. TV ratings and digital viewers have gone up. Race scheduling has become more stable and enhanced with the return of traditional open-wheel markets. And this year’s debut of the universal aero kit aims to pump up the action on the track, while also giving the cars a cleaner, meaner look.

Now, with NBC all in, Hinchcliffe is bullish on his sport’s future.

“This is a game-changing thing for us,” he declared. “If you look at the last four or five years, we’ve seen a steady growth in pretty much every measureable metric that there is – in a time where, globally, motorsports is in a bit of a downturn.

“The fact that IndyCar was able to rally against a global dip in motorsports interest, attendance, sponsorship – it speaks volumes to what we have been doing and this is just gonna take us to that next level.”