Kevin Harvick wins pole, Joey Logano starts second for Saturday’s Sprint Cup race at Darlington

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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:

Row 1

Kevin Harvick 182.485 mph, Joey Logano 182.059

Row 2

Aric Almirola 182.946, Marcos Ambrose 182.485

Row 3

Brad Keselowski 182.059, Jamie McMurray 182.019

Row 4

Ryan Newman 181.985, Kyle Busch 181.763

Row 5

Jeff Gordon 181.756, Denny Hamlin 181.548

Row 6

Paul Menard 181.481, Martin Truex Jr. 181.200

Row 7

Kurt Busch 182.181, Brian Vickers 181.985

Row 8

Dale Earnhardt Jr. 181.689, Clint Bowyer 181.247

Row 9

Kyle Larson 181.194, AJ Allmendinger 181.127

Row 10

Greg Biffle 180.947, Austin Dillon 180.914

Row 11

Carl Edwards 180.901, Kasey Kahne 180.787

Row 12

Tony Stewart 180.185, Justin Allgaier 178.958

Row 13

Matt Kenseth 182.059, Jimmie Johnson 181.911

Row 14

David Gilliland 181.548, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. 181.394

Row 15

Josh Wise 180.549, Michael Annett 180.330

Row 16

Casey Mears 180.310, David Ragan 180.204

Row 17

Danica Patrick 180.158, Alex Bowman 179.993

Row 18

Landon Cassill 179.717, Dave Blaney 179.606

Row 19

David Stremme 179.024, Parker Kligerman 178.543

Row 20

Ryan Truex 178.400, Reed Sorenson 177.961

Row 21

Travis Kvapil 177.768, Cole Whitt 177.659

Row 22

Joe Nemechek 177.166

DNQ: David Reutimann

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Helio Castroneves: ‘I have nothing to lose’ Sunday in bid for 4th Indy 500 win

All photos: IndyCar
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You might say Helio Castroneves comes into Sunday’s 102nd Running of the Indianapolis 500 with a “less is more” philosophy than he’s had in years past:

* No pressure

* No worrying about points

* No worrying about winning a championship

Take away all those things and the very popular Brazilian driver could be in the best position he’s ever been to achieve the biggest goal of his career:

Winning a fourth Indy 500, making him a member of motor racing’s most exclusive club, joining legendary drivers A.J. Foyt, Al Unser and Rick Mears as the only drivers to conquer the legendary Indianapolis Motor Speedway four times each.

Like his car number, Castroneves has won the Indy 500 three times. He wants to change that number to four times in Sunday’s 102nd Running of the Greatest Spectacle In Racing. Photo: IndyCar.

“For sure, I definitely don’t have much to lose in terms of points, championships, and things like that,” Castroneves told MotorSportsTalk earlier this week. “I don’t have to think that I don’t have a car to win, I’m not going to risk that much because there are still championship points (to earn if he was still racing full-time in the series).

“Not that I did that before, but if the situation occurs, people just need to know I have nothing to lose this time.”

Castroneves three prior triumphs in the 500 came in his first two years in the field – 2001 and 2002 – and again in 2009. In addition, he has finished twice in the last four editions of the Greatest Spectacle In Racing in 2014 and 2017.

Coming so close last year, losing to Takuma Sato by .201 of a second, is something Castroneves hasn’t forgotten about. To come so close to No. 4 has only made him more hungry to get it done on Sunday.

“Yeah, but if it were easy, we would likely have had more than four wins by now,” he said. “We’ve had opportunities in the past, the last four years we were really competitive, we were right there, especially in ’14 and ’17, we were right on it.

“Last year, I thought it was going to be the hardest 500 for me and look what happened: we were battling to the end for a victory,” Castroneves said. “It’s not just about trying hard, it’s about being there at the right place at the right time.

“And this place, Indianapolis, I’ve always said the track winds up choosing who is going to be the winner. Hopefully, with safety and luck, we’ll be part of it and be on the right side.”

Team owner Roger Penske decided after last season to put Castroneves and Juan Pablo Montoya as the chief drivers of Team Penske’s new two-car effort in the IMSA WeatherTech Championship sports car series.

When the announcement was first made, many feared that Castroneves had run out of chances to get that elusive No. 4 at Indy.

But Penske sweetened the deal for Helio to go sports car racing by promising he’d field a car for him at Indy. And Penske has proven to be a man of his word, giving Castroneves everything he needs to finally win No. 4.

“I feel we’ve prepared as much as a team, we’re doing everything possible in relation to preparation,” Castroneves said. “The preparation we had in the previous year helps us tremendously to give us an opportunity fighting there for a win, and that’s what we’re looking for.”

Castroneves has taken to the new style Indy car with aplomb. During the first week of practice leading up to last weekend’s qualifying, he was consistently one of the fastest drivers in the field.

The 43-year-old even topped the speed charts in the Fast Nine last Saturday before ending up eighth in the following day’s pole qualifying.

As a result, he’ll start Sunday’s race from the middle of Row 3, anchoring Team Penske’s four-man Top 8 starting lineup effort in the 500. When the green flag drops, to his left will be Danica Patrick and to his right will be four-time IndyCar champ and former 500 winner Scott Dixon.

And millions of others right behind him, so to speak.

“I feel the sense that everyone wants it to happen,” he said of winning No. 4. “We’re talking about being part of history here. The last guy to do it was Rick Mears in the ‘90s (1991).

“I mean, how cool would that be if I would be in the position and to see No. 4 in my era. I hear a lot of the fans, even those supporting different drivers, all saying ‘Man, I want to see you win No. 4.’ That just shows how special this place is.

“(The Indy 500) is part of a lot of people’s lives. I just would be very fortunate to hopefully to have this generation see someone do No. 4.”

While he’d rather not think about missing out on a fourth win at Indy for a ninth straight year, Castroneves is using reverse psychology somewhat.

He’s going into Sunday’s biggest race in the world fully believing he will finally win No. 4.

And if he does, forget the idea that he would never come back to race at Indy again.

“Not at all. Why? You’re so close to getting four, and then when you get four, you stop it? It doesn’t make sense.

“I think I still have at least four or five more years, there’s no question about it. As long as Roger (Penske) gives me the opportunity, I’m going to be going for it, for sure.”

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