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Kevin Harvick won pole position for Sunday’s Bojangles’ Southern 500 in NASCAR’s return to Darlington Raceway in South Carolina this year.
Harvick went wire-to-wire in qualifying, leading all three rounds to earn the top spot in tomorrow’s race. His final turn on the track in Round 3 saw him come in with a time of 27.669 seconds, edging out Martin Truex Jr. by 0.102 seconds.
Here are the full results from Saturday’s qualifying run, via NASCAR.com:
Row 1: Kevin Harvick (Pole), Martin Truex Jr.
Row 2: Kyle Busch, Kyle Larson
Row 3: Jamie McMurray, Brad Keselowski
Row 4: Kurt Busch, Joey Logano
Row 5: Denny Hamlin, Erik Jones
Row 6: Matt Kenseth, Ryan Blaney
Row 7: Austin Dillon, Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
Row 8: Aric Almirola, Clint Bowyer
Row 9: Ryan Newman, Jimmie Johnson
Row 10: Daniel Suarez, Chase Elliott
Row 11: Paul Menard, Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Row 12: Kasey Kahne, Trevor Bayne
Row 13: Ty Dillon, David Ragan
Row 14: Chris Buescher, Matt DiBenedetto
Row 15: AJ Allmendinger, Michael McDowell
Row 16: Landon Cassill, Reed Sorenson
Row 17: Danica Patrick, Cole Whitt
Row 18: Corey LaJoie, Gray Gaulding
Row 19: Jeffrey Earnhardt, Derrike Cope
Row 20: Cody Ware, Carl Long
After winning the pole, the second of his career at Darlington, Harvick offered a simple explanation for his success, via NASCAR on NBC:
NASCAR on NBC @NASCARonNBC
“I just love racing here (at @TooToughToTame ).”
Can’t blame you, @KevinHarvick! He’s your pole-sitter for tomorrow’s #Southern500! https://t.co/3OuZ6yN6bu
Harvick has been a fixture atop the leaderboard throughout the weekend. He posted the second-best lap speed during Friday’s practice session at 173.070 mph, trailing only Kyle Busch.
Busch is coming into Sunday’s race with tremendous momentum. The No. 18 car will start from the third position after winning two weeks ago at Bristol Motor Speedway. He’s trying to put the heat on current points leader Martin Truex Jr. heading into the playoffs, though his competition is not making it easy.
Sandwiched between Harvick and Busch in qualifying, Truex shows no signs of slowing down as he chases his first points championship. He holds a 101-point lead over Busch in the standings this season and is the only driver with four wins to this point.
Truex is also the defending champion at this race, beating out Harvick for his second win of the 2016 season.
With just two races left before the playoffs begin Sept. 17, pressure is starting to increase on those drivers in the mix for one of the final spots in the top 16 of the points standings.
Rookie Erik Jones, who holds the final playoff spot with 574 points, had a strong qualifying run and will start 10th overall. The No. 77 car was running almost neck and neck with Kevin Harvick in the second round of qualifying with a speed of 177.160 mph before slowing down at the end.
Another rookie, Ty Dillon, had a difficult end to his day in qualifying when he just missed making it to the final round after his car was slowed down just enough after making contact with the wall between Turns 1 and 2, via NASCAR:
.@tydillon just misses out on Round 2 after a run-in with the wall in Turns 1-2. #CoorsLightPole https://t.co/Yz9mOkJBPP
Dillion comes into Sunday’s race in 24th place and trails Jones by 179 points. He was already facing a nearly impossible climb to make the top 16, so starting in the 25th position doesn’t help his cause.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. also struggled during qualifying, only making it into the second round and finishing his day 22nd. Jimmie Johnson will be just ahead of him on the starting grid in the ninth row after posting the 18th-best time in qualifying.
Johnson is seeking to turn around his fortunes after a lackluster run of late. The defending NASCAR champion has just two top-10 finishes in his last 11 races, dropping him to 11th in the points standings.
This may not be the track for Johnson to get back on course, as he’s finished 19th and 33rd in the last two years at Darlington.
Given the success drivers such as Truex, Busch and Harvick have had here recently, it’s hard not to like their chances again this year after what they showed in qualifying.