NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver Dale Earnhardt Jr during qualifying for Quicken Loans 400 at Michigan International Speedway. (USA TODAY Sports: Andrew Weber)
BROOKLYN, Mich. — Three laps were all Kevin Harvick needed Friday afternoon.
He set a new Michigan International Speedway record on his first qualifying lap, then broke it during his last to claim his third Coors Light Pole Award of the season for Sunday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Quicken Loans 400. He ran just one lap in each of the three periods and his No. 4 Chevy was the fastest car on the track each time.
His 204.557 mph lap in the final period was about a half-second faster than the mark he set in the first session. He parked the car after the hot lap and waited for the session to end.
“Obviously it was a really fast couple laps,” Harvick said. “The car has been great since we unloaded it off the truck.
“When you have fast cars, it makes the driver’s job easier.”
How fast? Harvick’s final lap is the fastest pole speed in NASCAR since Bill Elliott earned the pole at Talladega in April 1987 with a 212.809 mph run. That effort came before the sport mandated restrictor plates on high speed ovals.
He said not to expect similar speeds Sunday when the green flag waves.
“Michigan’s been fast for a long time,” Harvick said, “but the cars will slow down a tremendous amount when we get them into traffic.”
It’s the ninth pole of his career. He also started and finished first at Darlington this season and was second at Kansas after securing the pole there.
Harvick is seeking his third victory of the season and second career win at MIS. His first at Michigan came Aug. 15, 2010.
Hendrick Motorsports claimed the next two spots in the lineup thanks to Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt Jr. Aric Almirola, Paul Menard and Brad Keselowski rounded out the first three rows.
Harvick set a new track record of 203.995 mph on his only lap of the first practice session to break the 203.949 mark set by Joey Logano in August.
The rest of the field noticed.
“Man, he was strong,” said Gordon, the Sprint Cup points leader. “The first time out I thought my lap was pretty good but nowhere near Kevin’s. Those guys are really tough, especially in qualifying.”
Earnhardt, last weekend’s winner at Pocono, said he couldn’t tell how much faster he was during his lone lap of the final session.
“I didn’t feel like we were going that much faster here than in the past,” he said.
Kasey Kahne was the first driver to miss the cut in the second round of qualifying and will start 13th next to Kyle Busch. Greg Biffle, who won last June’s race here, will start 18th.
A.J. Allmendinger and Tony Stewart were the first two drivers to miss the cut after the first qualifying run. Allmendinger was five hundredths of a second behind Joey Logano, who nabbed the 24th and final spot in the second qualifying session.
Juan Pablo Montoya, in his first Sprint Cup race since leaving the series at the end of last season, will start 28th on Sunday in a Team Penske Ford.
“Having tomorrow as a practice day will be a lot better,” said Montoya, who had just the morning practice session in the car on the two-mile track.
Denny Hamlin, who entered the weekend eighth in the series’ points standings, will start 29th and Matt Kenseth will start next to him with the second spot in the standings.
Ryan Truex was the lone entrant who failed to qualify.