Kevin Harvick claims pole for Challenger Round finale at Dover

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Out of the 14 drivers that have not yet advanced in this year’s Chase for the Sprint Cup, Kevin Harvick has perhaps the most clear path to moving on after Sunday’s Challenger Round finale at Dover International Speedway. All he needs to do is finish 34th or better.

But it appears he really wants to make sure he’s good for the Contender Round.

Harvick captured his seventh Sprint Cup pole of the season and his first ever at the Monster Mile with a lap of 162.933 mph in the No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet.

“They just do a great job in preparing the race cars and put a lot of effort into qualifying, and it’s translated into a lot of good finishes,” Harvick said to ESPN about his team’s efforts.

“We’ve just got to keep doing what we’re doing. Obviously, track position is huge here, especially at the beginning of the race. I’ve never been in that [No. 1] stall [at Dover], so I guess it’s gonna be OK on that end of pit road.”

At 41 points ahead of the cut-off, Harvick knows he’s in good shape. And with that, winning is the only goal he has in mind on Sunday.

“You just want to keep building on the momentum that we have, to try and further that as we lead into Kansas,” he said.

Harvick knocked Brad Keselowski off the pole with less than six minutes to go in the final round of qualifying.

Joe Gibbs Racing teammates Kyle Busch (162.404) and Denny Hamlin (162.250) were also able to eclipse Keselowski (162.140), while Jamie McMurray of Chip Ganassi Racing (161.936) was the fastest of the non-Chase competitors in fifth.

Other Chasers that cracked the final round of qualifying today were Jeff Gordon in sixth, Jimmie Johnson in eighth, and Kasey Kahne in 12th.

Going into Sunday, Hamlin, Greg Biffle, Kurt Busch, and Aric Almirola are the four drivers that are outside the Top 12 in the Chase Grid. Hamlin helped his cause today, but the other three in this group will all have to start from mid-pack: Almirola from 21st, Kurt Busch from 22nd, and Biffle from 27th.

That said, everyone from Carl Edwards in eighth on back to Almirola in 16th is on that advance bubble. Edwards, who’s eight points over the cutoff, qualified 18th today after waiting until late in the first round to set its qualifying lap.

“I think [crew chief] Jimmy [Fennig] made the right call – at the end of the day, we qualified 18th on our first lap, but if we had gone early, I think we would’ve been 24th and 25th,” Edwards said.

“…I just hope our Fastenal Ford is good in race trim. We’re gonna work really hard on that tomorrow. Obviously, it’s an important race for us. The pressure’s on.”

NASCAR SPRINT CUP SERIES AT DOVER – AAA 400 (Challenger Round Finale)
Qualifying Results

1. *4-Kevin Harvick
2. *18-Kyle Busch
3. *11-Denny Hamlin
4. *2-Brad Keselowski
5. 1-Jamie McMurray
6. *24-Jeff Gordon
7. 42-Kyle Larson
8. *48-Jimmie Johnson
9. 15-Clint Bowyer
10. 3-Austin Dillon
11. 55-Brian Vickers
12. *5-Kasey Kahne
13. 10-Danica Patrick
14. *20-Matt Kenseth
15. 14-Tony Stewart
16. *22-Joey Logano
17. 9-Marcos Ambrose
18. *99-Carl Edwards
19. 27-Paul Menard
20. *31-Ryan Newman
21. *43-Aric Almirola
22. *41-Kurt Busch
23. 51-Justin Allgaier
24. 17-Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
25. *88-Dale Earnhardt Jr.
26. 78-Martin Truex Jr.
27. *16-Greg Biffle
28. *47-A.J. Allmendinger
29. 26-Cole Whitt
30. 13-Casey Mears
31. 38-David Gilliland
32. 98-Josh Wise
33. 36-Reed Sorenson
34. 23-Alex Bowman
35. 7-Michael Annett
36. 40-Landon Cassill
37. 34-David Ragan
38. 33-David Stremme
39. 32-J.J. Yeley
40. 37-Mike Bliss
41. 66-Mike Wallace
42. 83-Travis Kvapil
43. 44-Timmy Hill
*Chase for the Sprint Cup contenders

Zach Veach splits with Andretti Autosport for rest of IndyCar season

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Zach Veach will be leaving his Andretti Autosport ride with three races remaining in the season, choosing to explore options after the decision was made he wouldn’t return for 2021.

In a Wednesday release, Andretti Autosport said a replacement driver for the No. 26 Dallara-Honda would be named in the coming days. The NTT IndyCar Series will race Oct. 2-3 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course and then conclude the season Oct. 25 on the streets of St. Petersburg, Florida.

Veach was ranked 11th in the points standings through 11 races of his third season with Andretti. Since a fourth in the June 6 season opener at Texas Motor Speedway, he hadn’t finished higher than 14th.

“The decision was made that I will not be returning in 2021 with Andretti Autosport in the No. 26 Gainbridge car,” Veach said in the Andretti release. “This, along with knowing that limited testing exists for teams due to COVID, have led me to the decision to step out of the car for the remainder of the 2020 IndyCar season. I am doing this to allow the team to have time with other drivers as they prepare for 2021, and so that I can also explore my own 2021 options.

“This is the hardest decision I have ever made, but to me, racing is about family, and it is my belief that you take care of your family. Andretti Autosport is my family and I feel this is what is best to help us all reach the next step. I will forever be grateful to Michael and the team for all of their support over the years. I would not be where I am today if it wasn’t for a relationship that started many years ago with Road to Indy. I will also be forever grateful to Dan Towriss for his friendship and for the opportunity he and Gainbridge have given me.

“My love for this sport and the people involved is unmeasurable, and I look forward to continuing to be amongst the racing world and fans in 2021.”

Said team owner Michael Andretti: “We first welcomed Zach to the Andretti team back in his USF2000 days and have enjoyed watching him grow and evolve as a racer, and a person. His decision to allow us to use the last few races to explore our 2021 options shows the measure of his character.

“Zach has always placed team and family first, and we’re very happy to have had him as part of ours for so many years. We wish him the best in whatever 2021 may bring and will always consider him a friend.”

Andretti fields five full-time cars for Veach, Alexander Rossi, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Marco Andretti and Colton Herta.

It also has fielded James Hinchcliffe in three races this season.