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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Ford Mustang GT3 test has Austin Cindric dreaming of Daytona: ‘I want to drive that car’

Cindric Ford GT3 test
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Austin Cindric wasn’t the “mystery” test driver behind the wheel of the new Ford Mustang GT3 at Sebring International Raceway, but the Team Penske driver desperately wanted to be.

Ford CEO Jim Farley, an amateur sports car driver himself, made the big reveal via a Tuesday tweet that provided the first video evidence of the GT3 Mustang on track.

“I’ve watched the video in question about a million times,” Cindric said Wednesday during a Ford Performance Zoom news conference to promote NASCAR’s first road course weekend of the season at Circuit of the Americas. “Definitely exciting times for sure. I want to drive that car. It suits my experience level and also the relationships that I have.”

Ford will enter the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship next season with its GT3 Mustang, entering a two-car factory effort (that will be managed by Multimatic) in GTD Pro and making customer cars available in the GT Daytona category.

That increases the likelihood of seeing more NASCAR drivers crossing over to IMSA. Cindric has been the only full-time Cup driver in the Rolex 24 at Daytona the past two years, but Ford Performance global director Mark Rushbrook has said the GT3 Mustang will provide more opportunities.

Ford has used its GT4 Mustang as a NASCAR driver development tool in the IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge with Harrison Burton and Zane Smith combining to win the season opener at Daytona International Speedway in January.

“We’re excited about the Next Gen car and the new architecture there and the similarities between that car and GT3 and even GT4 cars,” Rushbrook said at the announcement of the Ford GT3 program in January 2022 at Daytona. “We think it’s a great opportunity and to do be able to do that in a 24-hour race and get NASCAR drivers even more time is something we need to consider taking advantage of that opportunity.”

Given his sports car background, Cindric probably still would be in the Rolex 24 regardless. He has eight IMSA starts since the 2017 season opener at Daytona, racing a Lexus RCF GT3 and Mercedes-AMG GT3 in the GT category. The 2022 Daytona 500 winner made his second LMP2 start this year with Rick Ware Racing.

But Cindric’s preference naturally would be in a Ford, particularly with sports car racing enjoying convergence and crossovers in both GT and prototype racing.

“It’s an exciting time in GT racing, just as it is now for prototype racing with a lot of new regulations and manufacturers building new GT3 cars,” he said. “And also the opportunity with WEC (the World Endurance Championship) and Le Mans and how that all lines up for that category of car. It’s definitely an exciting time. I want to be as much of a part of that as possible.”

Though those odds seemingly will increase with multiple Ford entries in the Rolex 24 field next year, Cindric said NASCAR drivers still have to put in the networking to land rides as he has in recent years.

“Now how (the GT3 Mustang) relates to specifically NASCAR drivers and how often they want to be in the Rolex, could it be an influence? Absolutely, as far as the tie-in with the manufacturer,” Cindric said. “But the challenge and the drive and the logistics of getting an opportunity for a race like the Rolex 24 will be just as challenging as it always is to find your one-off ride for the race. At least from my experience, that’s what I still anticipate.”

It turned out the “mystery” test driver wasn’t from NASCAR (Farley revealed the driver to be 24 Hours of Le Mans winner Joey Hand after a fan asked whether it was Joey Logano).

But Cindric believes there could be more Cup drivers — and perhaps himself — behind the wheel of Mustang GT3s in the future.

“There’s definitely more of a pathway than I think there would be before as far as Ford drivers are concerned,” he said. “Hopefully, I’ll get the opportunity to drive that thing. It’s obviously a great looking car. That’s the first box you’ve got to check. And it’s cool (to have) a guy like Jim Farley, no doubt he’s a racer just as much as he is steering the ship for Ford. It’s cool to see he’s just as excited as the rest of us about it.”