Kevin Harvick wins Atlanta Sprint Cup pole; Stewart qualifies 12th

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While he doesn’t have Budweiser on his No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet this weekend, Kevin Harvick still got a “six-pack” of sorts tonight at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

Harvick claimed his sixth NASCAR Sprint Cup Series pole of 2014 with a lap of 29.118 seconds (190.398 miles per hour), and will lead the field to the green for Sunday night’s Oral-B USA 500.

And helping him earn the pole was his returning teammate and boss, Tony Stewart.

“Smoke” himself qualified 12th for his first race since his involvement in an Aug. 9 sprint car crash that took the life of 20-year-old racer Kevin Ward Jr.

“It’s good to have the boss back,” Harvick told Fox Sports. “He told me to go with what I knew from practice, and we switched our line there in [Turns] 1 and 2 and we were a lot better on the bottom.

“…It seems like there’s a lot more ‘back to normal’ with Tony here this week. Hopefully, we can turn this starting stuff into a win this weekend.”

As for Stewart, his day began with a somber press conference in which he expressed his sorrow over the tragedy that took place earlier this month at Canandaigua (N.Y.) Motorsports Park.

But once on the race track, things appeared to get better. Stewart was among the Top 10 in today’s first practice session and he kept that speed up to make the final round of qualifying. He’ll start on the outside of Row 6 with Carl Edwards.

Back up front, Harvick will be joined in Row 1 by Team Penske’s Brad Keselowski. The 2012 Cup champion notched his 10th front-row start of the season thanks to a lap of 190.058 in the No. 2 “Yellow Deuce” Team Penske Ford.

“I was just lacking a little bit, I don’t know how much I missed it by,” Keselowski told Fox. “But we’re really strong in race trim. I thought we had a shot in qualifying.

“Obviously, we were really close. But it’s another front-row start and hopefully, we can carry it into a front-row finish – uh, first-place finish – on Sunday night.”

Behind them in Row 2 will be rookie Kyle Larson and Ryan Newman, who are both looking for wins that can get them into the Chase with two regular season races to go.

Newman is looking good to make the Chase on points if necessary, but Larson is still trying to recover from a crash at Michigan that severely dented his post-season hopes.

He’s currently 17th in the Chase standings, but down 26 points to Greg Biffle, who currently occupies the 16th and final position on the Chase Grid.

Several other winless drivers are also starting toward the front. Matt Kenseth and Martin Truex Jr. are in Row 3, while Kasey Kahne is in Row 5.

Then there’s the aforementioned Stewart, who has gained an exemption from NASCAR and is eligible to compete in the Chase should he win Sunday or next weekend at Richmond International Raceway.

Chase-bound Aric Almirola and defending Atlanta champ Kyle Busch make up Row 4, while Sprint Cup points leader Jeff Gordon will start ninth alongside Kahne.

NASCAR SPRINT CUP SERIES AT ATLANTA – ORAL-B USA 500
Qualifying Results

1. 4-Kevin Harvick
2. 2-Brad Keselowski
3. 42-Kyle Larson
4. 31-Ryan Newman
5. 20-Matt Kenseth
6. 78-Martin Truex Jr.
7. 43-Aric Almirola
8. 18-Kyle Busch
9. 24-Jeff Gordon
10. 5-Kasey Kahne
11. 99-Carl Edwards
12. 14-Tony Stewart
13. 3-Austin Dillon
14. 22-Joey Logano
15. 1-Jamie McMurray
16. 48-Jimmie Johnson
17. 11-Denny Hamlin
18. 16-Greg Biffle
19. 55-Brian Vickers
20. 88-Dale Earnhardt Jr.
21. 15-Clint Bowyer
22. 41-Kurt Busch
23. 47-A.J. Allmendinger
24. 13-Casey Mears
25. 7-Michael Annett
26. 17-Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
27. 10-Danica Patrick
28. 37-Mike Bliss
29. 33-Ty Dillon
30. 23-Alex Bowman
31. 51-Justin Allgaier
32. 9-Marcos Ambrose
33. 27-Paul Menard
34. 77-Joe Nemechek
35. 66-Brett Moffitt
36. 98-Josh Wise
37. 38-David Gilliland
38. 34-David Ragan
39. 83-Ryan Truex
40. 26-Cole Whitt
41. 32-J.J. Yeley
42. 40-Landon Cassill
43. 36-Reed Sorenson
DNQ: 95-Michael McDowell

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.”