Kevin Harvick records second-fastest qualifying speed in NASCAR history — and does it twice at Michigan

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It wasn’t enough for Kevin Harvick to just be Freaky Fast on Friday. No, Harvick had to get greedy.

Harvick broke the track record at Michigan International Speedway not once but twice during Friday’s three rounds of knockout qualifying.

As a result, Harvick will start from the pole for Sunday’s Quicken Loans 400. It’s his third pole of the season, most of any driver. It’s also the fastest qualifying effort in NASCAR since Bill Elliott ran 212.809 mph in 1987 at Talladega Superspeedway (prior to NASCAR mandating restrictor plates the following year at both Talladega and Daytona International Speedway).

Harvick initially broke Joey Logano’s track record (203.949 mph, set last August) by recording a speed of 203.995 mph (at 35.295 seconds) during the first of Friday’s three qualifying rounds.

Harvick then went out in the third and final round and really put the pedal to the metal, snapping his own brand-new record with a best-lap speed of 204.557 mph (at 35.198 seconds).

“You just have to relax and pay attention to not over-driving because it’s so easy to miss your line on the entry into the corners,” Harvick told Fox Sports1. “My guys are doing a great job and we just have to keep doing everything we’ve been doing and we have fast race cars.”

Logano’s qualifying effort last August snapped the previous mark set by Marcos Ambrose (203.241 mph) in June 2012, after the track had been repaved during the offseason. Ambrose’s run two years ago had shattered the previous MIS speed record of Ryan Newman by more than nine mph.

Also of note:

* Hendrick Motorsports placed three drivers in the top seven starters: Jeff Gordon will start from the outside pole, Pocono winner Dale Earnhardt Jr. starts third and Jimmie Johnson starts seventh.

Earnhardt is seeking his third win at Michigan, while Johnson is still seeking his first career Cup win at the two-mile, high-speed oval.

* Richard Petty Motorsports’ Aric Almirola qualified fourth, Team Penske saw Brad Keselowski qualify fifth while teammate Joey Logano was ninth.

* In a very odd twist, Chip Ganassi Racing’s Jamie McMurray qualified 11th, but teammate Kyle Larson did not go out and make a run in the final qualifying round, relegating him to a 12th-place starting position.

* Juan Pablo Montoya, making the first of two appearances in a Sprint Cup race this season (he’ll also attempt to make next month’s Brickyard 400), qualified 28th for Sunday’s race.

“This place is so quick, that getting used to the car is hard,” Montoya said. “There was so much push that the car wouldn’t turn at all.

“It’s exciting to be here with Team Penske and Ford. It’s a hell of an opportunity. The idea of being here in Michigan is more of getting myself and Greg (crew chief Greg Erwin) ready for Indy. Our big goal is to go to Indy and win.”

Ryan Truex had the 39th-fastest speed in the first round, but because of provisional starts for other drivers from 36th through 43rd, is the only driver who did not qualify for Sunday’s race. It’s the third DNQ for Truex thus far in his rookie Sprint Cup season.

Here’s the starting grid for Sunday’s Quicken Loans 400 at Michigan International Speedway:

Row 1: Kevin Harvick, Jeff Gordon

Row 2: Dale Earnhardt Jr., Aric Almirola

Row 3: Paul Menard, Brad Keselowski

Row 4: Jimmie Johnson, Kurt Busch

Row 5: Joey Logano, Brian Vickers

Row 6: Jamie McMurray, Kyle Larson

Row 7: Kasey Kahne, Kyle Busch

Row 8: Clint Bowyer, Martin Truex Jr.

Row 9: Justin Allgaier, Greg Biffle

Row 10: Austin Dillon, Marcos Ambrose

Row 11: Matt Kenseth, Carl Edwards

Row 12: Trevor Bayne, Ryan Newman

Row 13: AJ Allmendinger, Tony Stewart

Row 14: Danica Patrick, Juan Pablo Montoya

Row 15: Denny Hamlin, Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

Row 16: Casey Mears, David Gilliland

Row 17: David Ragan, Brian Moffitt

Row 18: J.J. Yeley, David Stremme

Row 19: Michael Annett, Josh Wise

Row 20: Landon Cassill, Reed Sorenson

Row 21: Alex Bowman, Cole Whitt

Row 22: Travis Kvapil

Failed to qualify (DNQ): Ryan Truex

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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.”