Resilient Kevin Harvick bounced back at his best track, winning the pole position for Sunday’s Can-Am 500 at ISM Raceway and putting behind him a penalty that threatened his Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series championship chances.
Harvick, a nine-time Phoenix winner, toured the newly configured one-mile track in 25.386 seconds to run the fastest lap in the three-round knockout qualifying session at 139.340 mph to edge fellow Playoff driver Chase Elliott (139.152 mph) for the top starting spot in Round of 8 elimination race.
Harvick lost 40 points and the services of crew chief Rodney Childers and car chief Bob “Cheddar” Smith for the final two races of the season for an infraction involving the placement of the rear spoiler on last Sunday’s race-winning car at Texas Motor Speedway.
The penalty also wiped out Harvick’s automatic qualification for the Nov. 18 Championship 4 event at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
Nevertheless, Harvick enters Sunday’s race (2:30 p.m. ET on NBC, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) with a three-point edge over Stewart-Haas Racing teammate Kurt Busch, with three of four berths in the Championship race still on the line.
“I just deal with the facts,” Harvick said. “I know where we are, I know what our plan is, and we don’t look back.”
Harvick had veteran Tony Gibson on his pit box in lieu of Childers.
“Everyone went smooth,” said Harvick, who won his second Busch Pole Award at Phoenix, his fourth of the season and the 25th of his career. “I think, as you guys are quickly figuring out, it’s more about people than it is about cars.
“We’ve got a lot of good people and, obviously, a lot of experience with Tony, and those guys did a great job filling roles. You can’t drive a slow car fast, and you can’t beat good people.”
Though Elliott posted his best qualifying effort of the Playoffs so far, he seemed disappointed with his second-place starting position.
“Yeah, unfortunately not good enough,” Elliott said. “The guys brought me a great NAPA Chevy this week and one of these days I’ll figure out how to qualify on a non-plate track, maybe. I had a car to do it today, and I didn’t get it done. So, we’ll go to work on Sunday.”
Elliott starts Sunday’s race 17 points behind Harvick for the final spot in the Championship 4.
Playoff drivers Kyle Busch and Joey Logano earned the sixth and ninth spots on the grid, respectively, but four Playoff drivers failed to advance to the final round. Clint Bowyer and Aric Almirola, both in must-win situations, will start from the 16th and 18th positions.
Kurt Busch qualified 14th, one spot behind Martin Truex Jr., who needs to score 34 points to clinch a spot in the Championship 4. Truex failed to advance to the final round by .003 seconds.
“This seems to be kind of par for the course for us lately,” Truex said. “I’d say 13th is a pretty good starting spot for the day we’ve had. We really didn’t get a crack at anything in practice and we didn’t have much time to get ready for qualifying and we were pretty far off.
“Made some good gains for sure. I wish we could have ran again. I definitely feel like I could pick up some more, we were pretty tight. We’ll start 13th and get to work tomorrow.”
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. will start third on Sunday, followed by Ryan Blaney and Alex Bowman.