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:
Kevin Harvick 182.485 mph, Joey Logano 182.059
Aric Almirola 182.946, Marcos Ambrose 182.485
Brad Keselowski 182.059, Jamie McMurray 182.019
Ryan Newman 181.985, Kyle Busch 181.763
Jeff Gordon 181.756, Denny Hamlin 181.548
Paul Menard 181.481, Martin Truex Jr. 181.200
Kurt Busch 182.181, Brian Vickers 181.985
Dale Earnhardt Jr. 181.689, Clint Bowyer 181.247
Kyle Larson 181.194, AJ Allmendinger 181.127
Greg Biffle 180.947, Austin Dillon 180.914
Carl Edwards 180.901, Kasey Kahne 180.787
Tony Stewart 180.185, Justin Allgaier 178.958
Matt Kenseth 182.059, Jimmie Johnson 181.911
David Gilliland 181.548, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. 181.394
Josh Wise 180.549, Michael Annett 180.330
Casey Mears 180.310, David Ragan 180.204
Danica Patrick 180.158, Alex Bowman 179.993
Landon Cassill 179.717, Dave Blaney 179.606
David Stremme 179.024, Parker Kligerman 178.543
Ryan Truex 178.400, Reed Sorenson 177.961
Travis Kvapil 177.768, Cole Whitt 177.659
Joe Nemechek 177.166
DNQ: David Reutimann
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