INDIANAPOLIS (AP) – Kevin Harvick once again dominated a NASCAR qualifying session, setting a new Indianapolis Motor Speedway track record to win the pole for the Brickyard 400.
Harvick turned a lap at 188.470 mph on Saturday to claim his Sprint Cup Series-best fourth pole of the season. Harvick beat the track record of 187.531 set last year by Ryan Newman, who won from the pole.
Harvick, who had never before won more than two poles in a season, will try Sunday to win the prestigious Brickyard for the second time in his career. The Stewart-Haas Racing driver first won at Indianapolis in 2003 when he drove for Richard Childress.
It was clear quickly that Stewart-Haas came prepared for the Brickyard with some of its quickest cars. Harvick was fastest in all three rounds of NASCAR’s knockout qualifying session, and teammates Tony Stewart and Kurt Busch also finished in the top-seven.
Only Danica Patrick failed to make it into the final round, but still qualified 14th to put all the SHR Chevrolets near the front of the field.
“It’s time to get into Chase form, and this is where it all starts,” said Harvick, a two-time winner already this season.
Landing right behind Harvick was Sprint Cup Series points leader Jeff Gordon, who will start second on Sunday when he races for his fifth Brickyard victory. He was thrilled with his qualifying performance because it puts him on the front row on the 20th anniversary of his victory in the inagural NASCAR race at Indianapolis.
“To be on the front row, 20 years after my first win, I get excited about that,” Gordon said.
Brad Keselowski qualified third, setting up what could be yet another race-day battle between Hendrick Motorsports and Team Penske. Along with Harvick’s new crew at SHR, the Hendrick and Penske drivers have seemed to be the strongest and most consistent this season.
For Keselowski, a win on Sunday would finally give him a victory in a marquee event. More important, it would be the first NASCAR win at Indy for team owner Roger Penske, who has a record 15 victories in the Indianapolis 500 but none in the Brickyard 400.
“It’s the last thing left on the Penske bucket list,” said Keselowski, who noted Juan Pablo Montoya was brought in from IndyCar this weekend in a third Team Penske Ford to give the owner an additional shot on Sunday.
“He’s all in, as much as you can be, right, and it would be a huge honor to be the guy that pulls it off for him.”
Brian Vickers qualified fourth and was followed by Stewart, a two-time Brickyard winner who easily had the fastest car at the track last month before he wrecked it during a tire test. Busch was seventh and followed by Montoya, the 2000 Indianapolis 500 winner who went 0-for-7 in this race during his full-time NASCAR gig. Montoya was the driver to beat at least twice before at Indy, but the victories slipped away in the waning laps of the 2009 and 2010 races.
Penske driver Joey Logano was ninth as the three Team Penske drivers all landed in the top 10.
Kasey Kahne was 10th and teammate Jimmie Johnson 11th as three of the four Hendrick drivers qualified in the first six rows. Dale Earnhardt Jr. had a dissapointing run, and qualofied 23rd.
“I haven’t been real happy here all weekend,” Earnhardt said.
It was a strange day for Joe Gibbs Racing, which saw Kyle Busch and Matt Kenseth qualify 12th and 13th. But Denny Hamlin didn’t make it out of the first round of qualifying and wound up 27th.
“Really we’ve been over a second off most of the weekend,” said Hamlin. “Just slow. Our car is handling so bad, we can’t get anything to go right.”