CLICK: Full qualifying results from Kansas Speedway
Once upon a time, Kevin Harvick struggled to show his true pace when it came to qualifying in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, but ever since his move to Stewart-Haas Racing and the introduction of the new elimination format for qualifying it's been a completely different story.
Just seven days after clinching pole position at Dover International Speedway he did it again at Kansas Speedway, with a laptime of 27.325s (197.621mph) on the 1.5-mile tri-oval, his eighth pole of the season and his 14th in a total of 496 Cup starts. He'll start at the front for the third time in 18 races at Kansas.
"For whatever reason this fits everything that I have going on with my driving style," he said afterwards. "But in the end it's all about having fast cars obviously.
"Just have to thank everybody on my Budweiser team for staying focused, continuing to build better race cars, and controlling all the things that we can control," he continued. " Our cars are fast, we are qualifying well, our pit stops are good, cars are reliable and everything is good. We just need a little bit of good luck to go with it."
Harvick had been even faster when he'd topped the second round of qualifying with a lap speed of 197.773mph, a new track qualifying record for Kansas beating his own existing benchmark of 194.252mph set in the Cup field's first visit of the year to the circuit in May which saw Harvick finish the race as runner-up to Jeff Gordon.
"Our car was really good here last time," he said. "Obviously, very similar to the things we did here in the first race, same car. Hopefully we can do the same thing in race trim."
Now the question is whether Harvick will finally be able to finally convert his blistering qualifying pace into a race win and an assured berth in the next round of the Chase. Despite all his pole positions in 2014, Harvick hasn't won since Darlington in April: last week he dominated the race early from pole and led for 223 laps before am inner valve spring failure on his left front tyre left him having to settle for a disappointing 13th place finish.
"We've been dealt some bad luck throughout the year," agreed Harvick. "But it hasn't fazed them in continuing to work on the cars and the speed. The first three weeks we have led a bunch of laps and qualified well. Last week had them covered and a valve stem got knocked off by a lugnut.
"Keep doing the things that you are doing and that luck will all come full circle and as long as the cars continue to be fast that stuff all comes back to you," he said. "Hopefully it peaks at the right time."
Harvick's final round qualifying lap was a relatively comfortable 0.183s faster than Michael Waltrip Racing's Brian Vickers who will start alongside Harvick on the front row for Sunday afternoon's 267-lap race. A week after being knocked out of the Chase line-up, Aric Almirola will start in third place for Richard Petty Motorsport alongside Penske's Joey Logano.
"That was really important for us," said Almirola. "Even though we are out of it we still want to compete like we are in the Chase. Prove we are capable of doing it and prove it to ourselves and everyone else out there. This is exactly how we need to do that. We need a good run Sunday. We still have a lot to race for. We can get as high as fifth in points and that should be our goal, to get as high in points as we can."
"That was faster than we were in practice, so that is good," contributed Logano. "Overall it is a good starting spot. Fourth is good. The outside lane is good to be in. We will try to move up from there and make sure we make good use of that good starting spot. That is important. Track position is important here and qualifying is one of the most important things of the weekend here and I am glad we were able to capitalise and get a good starting spot."
Although Logano has already won a race in the 2014 he'll once again be starting even on points with the other 11 drivers who are still in the play-offs. That includes both Hendrick Motorsport's Jeff Gordon who had been fastest in the earlier practice session) and Logano's own Penske team mate Brad Keselowski, both of whom are also Chase race winners, at Dover and Chicagoland respectively.
"Our first outing I thought we were going to get the pole," admitted Keselowski. "We just didn't pick up any speed from there. It is still a lot better than what we did in practice and we will start sixth. You can certainly win from there. We will work on it more tomorrow to pick up some more speed."
"I'm happy with where we ended up," said Gordon. "I feel like that is about where we were. Kevin was in another league ... I got a little bit tight off of two, which was surprising I had been loose over there the whole qualifying session. I did not expect it to get tight there. Knowing that I wish we could have made a little bit different adjustment there before that run. All in all, the car has great speed in it and I was happy with it in the race trim runs we ran today. A top five you have to be happy with that starting position."
Kyle Busch recovered from the sole Friday practice session in which he was the lowest-placed of the remaining Chase contenders in 25th place to make his way into the final round of qualifying where he clinched seventh place on the grid alongside the second-highest of the Hendrick drivers, Dale Earnhardt Jr. who is celebrating his 40th birthday this coming week.
Tony Stewart will start the Hollywood Casino 400 from ninth place alongside the third Hendrick car of Kasey Kahne, while row six is an all-Roush Fenway Racing affair consisting of Greg Biffle and Carl Edwards. While Edwards remains in contention for this year's championship, Biffle was narrowly knocked out by Kahne at the climax of the Challenger Round last weekend at Dover.
Paul Menard just missed making it through to the top 12 pole shoot-out round and has to settle for 13th place on the grid in one of the last races he'll have with Slugger Labbe as his crew chief; Labbe is being promoted into a senior research and development role at RCR, and his place on the #27 team will be taken by Menard's existing race engineer Justin Alexander.
Menard will start alongside Jamie McMurray in the #1 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet, with Furniture Row Racing's Martin Truex Jr. and RCR's Austin Dillon lining up on the row behind them in 15th and 16th places respectively.
It proved a difficult day for reigning Sprint Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson, who failed to progress from the first round of qualifying and triggered a caution late in the session with a wild spin while trying to improve his laptime. Johnson was able to keep the car from making contact with the wall, but his existing laptime was ultimately only good enough for 32nd place on the starting grid, the lowest of the Chase contenders. Johnson complained afterwards that the #48 was simply too loose during the run, but he will have two further 50-minute practice sessions on Saturday to allow him to work on the race set-up.
Also failing to progress from the first round were Joe Gibbs Racing pair Denny Hamlin and Matt Kenseth, who will line up in 25th and 27th positions. It was a particularly frustrating result for Hamlin, who actually finished dead level for 24th place with Richard Childress Racing's Ryan Newman, but with Newman being handed the last transfer spot to the second round by virtue of a tiebreaker based on car owner points.
"After the little drama we had and being tied with the #11 car on that first round I am happy that we got the opportunity to beat seven more of them," Newman smiled. "We will work on it a little bit more in race trim. We really thought we were going to be better than that based on where we were in qualifying practice. The car drove really good but I think everybody just stepped it up and we were already stepped up."
Newman went on to claim 17th place on the grid alongside CGR's Kyle Larson, one row ahead of MWR's Clint Bowyer who celebrated the birth of his first son Cash Aaron Bowyer with his wife Lorra on Wednesday.
With 43 cars entered for this week's race in Kansas City, there were no drivers who failed to make the grid.
See full qualifying results from Kansas Speedway