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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Coyne transitioning from underdog to Indy 500 threat

Photo: IndyCar
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For most of the team’s existence, Dale Coyne Racing has been the Chicago Cubs of American Open Wheel Racing – a team whose history was more defined by failures, at times comically so, than success.

The last decade, however, has seen the tide completely change. In 2007, they scored three podium finishes with Bruno Junqueira. In 2009, they won at Watkins Glen with the late Justin Wilson.

The combination won again at Texas Motor Speedway in 2012, and finished sixth in the 2013 Verizon IndyCar Series championship. That same year, Mike Conway took a shock win for them in Race 1 at the Chevrolet Dual in Detroit.

Carlos Huertas scored an upset win for them in Race 1 at the Houston double-header in 2014, and while 2015 and 2016 yielded no wins, Tristan Vautier and Conor Daly gave them several strong runs – Vautier’s best finish was fourth in Race 2 at Detroit, while Daly finished second in Race 1 at Detroit, finished fourth at Watkins Glen, and scored a trio of sixth-place finishes at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course, Race 2 at Detroit, and the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.

And 2017 was set to possibly be the best year the team has ever had. Sebastien Bourdais gave the team a popular win in the season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, and then rookie Ed Jones scored back-to-back top tens – 10th and sixth – at St. Pete and the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach to start his career.

But, things started unraveling at the Indianapolis 500. Bourdais appeared set to be in the Fast Nine Pole Shootout during his first qualifying run – both of his first two laps were above 231 mph –  before his horrifying crash in Turn 2.

While Jones qualified an impressive 11th and finished an even more impressive third, results for the rest of the season became hard to come by – Jones only scored two more Top 10s, with a best result of seventh at Road America.

But, retooled for 2018, the Coyne team is a legitimate threat at the 102nd Running of the Indianapolis 500.

Bourdais, whose No. 18 Honda features new sponsorship from SealMaster and now ownership partners in Jimmy Vasser and James “Sulli” Sullivan, has a win already, again at St. Pete, and sits third in the championship.

And Bourdais may also be Honda’s best hope, given that he was the fastest Honda in qualifying – he’ll start fifth behind Ed Carpenter, Simon Pagenaud, Will Power, and Josef Newgarden.

“I think it speaks volumes about their work, their passion and their dedication to this program, Dale (Coyne), Jimmy (Vasser) and Sulli (James Sullivan) and everybody from top to bottom. I can’t thank them enough for the opportunity, for the support,” Bourdais said of the team’s effort.

Rookie Zachary Claman De Melo has been progressing nicely, and his Month of May has been very solid – he finished 12th at the INDYCAR Grand Prix on the IMS Road Course and qualified a strong 13th for the “500.”

“It’s been surreal to be here as rookie. I’m a bit at a loss for words,” Claman De Melo revealed after qualifying. “The fans, driving around this place, being with the team, everything is amazing. I have a great engineer, a great group of experienced mechanics at Dale Coyne Racing.”

While Conor Daly and Pippa Mann struggled in one-off entries, with Mann getting bumped out of the field in Saturday qualifying, Daly’s entry essentially puts three Coyne cars in the race – Daly’s No. 17 United States Air Force Honda is a Dale Coyne car that has been leased to Thom Burns Racing.

Rest assured, the days of Coyne being an “also ran” are long gone, and a Coyne car ending up in Victory Lane at the biggest race of the year would complete the Chicago Cubs analogy – the Cubs won a World Series title in 2016, and an Indy 500 triumph would be the crowning achievement in Coyne’s career.

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