By Gary B. Graves
AP Sports Writer
SPARTA, Ky. — Storms washed out qualifying at Kentucky Speedway on Friday, putting Kevin Harvick on the pole for Saturday night’s Sprint Cup Series race based on owner points.
Severe weather moved over the track near midday and shortened practice to around 30 minutes. A brief sprinkle followed, but cars were able to return to the track for practice with another session scheduled for evening.
In any event, Harvick’s No. 4 Chevy will lead the field to green alongside Brad Keselowski in the No. 2 Ford.
It is the first Kentucky pole for Harvick, who has two top-five starts in five trips here. But he and other drivers will likely have to reboot their strategy after rain washed the 1.5 mile tri-oval clean of rubber they put down in hopes of widening grooves on the resurfaced and reconfigured track.
“Hopefully, being able to get some more practice will be beneficial,” Harvick said. “We still don’t really have a good idea of exactly where we need to be as far as balance and what is going to happen the longer you run the car.”
Given the 2014 champion’s consistency this season, Harvick seems likely to figure it out.
Harvick hasn’t won since the fourth race at Phoenix, but he has posted 13 top-10 finishes with seven top fives in 17 starts. He has led the points after the past eight races but has generated less buzz compared to counterparts such as Keselowski or defending champion Kyle Busch, who are tied with a series-best three wins.
Harvick’s consolation has been steadiness he believes will translate into victories.
“We are cleaning a lot of things up as we go from week to week,” he said, “and hopefully we are ready as we get into the Chase and have everything hitting on all cylinders. I feel good about the performance and good about the progress that we have made with adjusting and adapting and the things that we have been able to achieve have been OK. Hopefully we can keep making them better.”
The rest of the top 10: Kurt Busch (Chevy); Joey Logano (Ford); Joe Gibbs Racing teammates Carl Edwards and Kyle Busch in Toyotas; Martin Truex Jr. (Toyota); rookie Chase Elliott (Chevy); Jimmie Johnson (Chevy) and Denny Hamlin (Toyota).
Johnson will race in a backup Chevy after wrecking his primary No. 48 in Friday’s abbreviated practice before the rains came. He got loose in turn 4 and smacked the outside wall, sustaining heavy damage after posting the session’s second-fastest speed of 188.121 mph.
Toyota and Chevy each has four spots in the top 10 with seven drivers coming from three teams. Harvick is joined by Stewart-Haas Racing teammate Kurt Busch, while Johnson has company in Hendrick Motorsports stablemate Elliott. Hamlin, Edwards and Kyle Busch will represent Joe Gibbs Racing.
ON THE VERGE
Though Keselowski is tied with Kyle Busch for the most Kentucky wins with two each, don’t be shocked if Penske Racing teammate Logano breaks through. He was second last July and has three consecutive top-10s with 60 laps led combined the past two years.
Cup cars will feature a different Goodyear tire package from last month’s test after the manufacturer noticed blistering afterward. The new package is harder with the right-side tire using the same construction as the one used at Michigan. Harvick crew chief Rodney Childers voiced his displeasure with the change Thursday with a tweet that said, “We will never ever go test for 2 days on an off week again, on the wrong tires.”
Keselowski seemed to like the change, saying Friday that “the tire change seems to have not only been warranted, but very successful. We haven’t seen any issues as of now, but of course that can always change throughout the weekend.”