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

Newgarden tries to regain control of IndyCar championship race at Iowa

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NEWTON, Iowa – There are just six races left in the 2019 NTT IndyCar Series championship and Team Penske driver Josef Newgarden has a hard-charging Alexander Rossi closing in on his gearbox. Newgarden’s lead is down to just three points after last Sunday’s Honda Indy Toronto.

Newgarden has been the leader in the standings after every race this season, with the exception of the 103rdIndianapolis 500, when he trailed Team Penske teammate and Indy 500 winner Josef Newgarden by one point.

Is Newgarden worried entering Saturday night’s Iowa 300 at Iowa Speedway?

“I’m confident we have good cars,” Newgarden told NBC Sports.com. “You can have bad weekends here and there. I think we can have a good result the rest of the year. But there are a lot of guys still in it. Rossi is the guy who is the closest, but you can’t count out Simon Pagenaud, Scott Dixon or Will Power. It’s going to be a fight until the end for this championship.

“We briefly lost the points lead after the Indy 500. Simon and I were one point apart. We’ve had better consistency this year. That is what is going to pay off at the end. We’ve been consistent up to this point and we have to continue it to the end.

“Look at all of these championship runs, most of the times it goes to the most consistent driver. You have to have clean finishes for every run. If you don’t, it’s pretty tough to make up the deficit.”

Newgarden has had a remarkably consistent season with three wins, six podiums (top three) and nine top-five finishes in 11 races.

Rossi has nearly matched him with two wins, six podiums and nine top-five finishes in 11 races.

These two drivers are nearly in a dead heat, so as the championship leader, can Newgarden force his fiercest foes into making mistakes?

“I’m a little bit boring,” Newgarden said. “I do the same thing every time. It puts more pressure on guys like Scott Dixon, who has to win races to catch up. They are going to be more aggressive. Our program is boring and that is trying to maximize each race individually. That is what we have to do.

“I don’t know if it is that different than being in a fight with Will Power or Simon Pagenaud or Scott Dixon. They have different tendencies. Alex is the more aggressive of those other drivers. It’s fun going up against all of them. Alex is really good. He has a certain style you have to play against. If it was Scott, it would be just as exciting, but it would be a different game.

“Alex brings a more aggressive side to the conversation.”

That aggressive fight continues to the .875-mile short oval at Iowa Speedway, site of Saturday night’s Iowa 300.

It’s one of Newgarden’s better tracks. He set an IndyCar Series record for leading the most laps in a single race when he was in front for 282 laps in his 2016 Iowa win with Ed Carpenter Racing. That was preceded by two straight second place finishes at Iowa in 2014 and 2014.

Since joining Team Penske in 2017, Newgarden finished sixth that season and fourth in 2018 in a race where he led 211 laps.

“We were pretty good there last year,” Newgarden admitted. “We qualified well, but we were a little shy of what we needed last year. The race didn’t pan out the way we needed it to. Our strategy wasn’t perfect there. But those are things we can clean up. We have a really capable group. I think we’ll have a good car there, again. I feel good about it. We’ve had good cars there in the past, we were just a tick off. I think we will be better there this year.

“We should be fine.”

Short oval racing is a unique form that adds diversity to the schedule as drivers have to get on an off the accelerator and on and off the brake, all while dealing with traffic throughout the 300-lap contest.

It’s that type of close quarter racing that real racers love.

“Iowa, for sure is a racer’s track,” Newgarden said. “It’s very bumpy, with a lot of character. It’s one of my favorite short ovals that we go to. I love that place. A lot of the tracks we go to are racer’s race tracks. There aren’t a lot of bad ones of the schedule. There are tracks with diverse challenges and you like that. Going from Toronto to Iowa to Mid-Ohio, they are all different tracks that require different setups, different driving styles.

“It’s like the championship is a driver’s championship. That is what it demands.”

An NTT IndyCar Series race at Iowa Speedway is a special experience because it’s played out in front of grass-roots racing fans. These are the fans that following auto racing on a regular basis, many of which are regulars for sprint car racing down the road at Knoxville Speedway in Knoxville, Iowa.

“They are all different race fans,” Newgarden said. “Toronto has a bustling city vibe. Iowa is a bunch of farmers. Really nice people who are salt of the earth farmers who come out and enjoy racing. Mid-Ohio is a hybrid. It’s very much a Midwest race but different from Iowa.

“You get these different pockets of different fans, different people, different racers but they all like IndyCar racing and that’s pretty cool.”