DARLINGTON, S.C. (AP) — Kevin Harvick accomplished his first goal at Darlington Raceway — winning the pole. The next one is to win the Southern 500.
Harvick held off defending Darlington champion Martin Truex Jr. on Saturday to capture the qualifying. And on Sunday that gives him the lead pit area that he hopes will keep him out front in tight situations.
"That's really the biggest advantage," Harvick said. "Having that first pit stall if your car is not handling good, it allows you to make up two or three spots if you have a decent pit stop and hopefully keep that track position all night."
Harvick ran a fast lap of 177.730 in the final round, sweeping all three segments of qualifying. It was Harvick's fourth pole of the season and second at Darlington. The last time Harvick started up front for the Southern 500, he took the checkered flag at the track "Too Tough To Tame."
Harvick had long said his team's switch to Ford racers this year would take some adjustment. Gradually, that's happened to the point where Harvick believes his team will strongly contend for a title when NASCAR's playoffs begin in two weeks.
"I knew there was a lot of work that had gone into everything with the switchover," Harvick said. "Mentally, I was prepared for it to go either way. It could've been a lot worse than it has been. We've performed relatively well for the amount of workload and amount of things that have gone into switching manufacturers."
Truex, the series points leader, who has won four times this season, finished with a lap of 177.077 mph.
"Seems like we've been second a lot this year," The said. "It's been a good number for us and hopefully it will be a good one tomorrow night."
It's the seventh time this season Truex has started second. He's won two his four races this year from that spot.
Kyle Busch will start third. He swept the truck, Xfinity and Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series events at Bristol two weeks ago. Kyle Larson is fourth and Jamie McMurray fifth.
Brad Keselowski heads up the third row in sixth, followed by Kurt Busch, Joey Logano, Denny Hamlin and Erik Jones.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. will start his final Darlington race in 22nd. Earnhardt Jr. is winless this season and would need an extraordinary late run this week and next to advance to playoffs.
"Our package just didn't have the speed for qualifying," Earnhardt said. "But I think our race stuff is going to be great."