Kevin Harvick dominated Fr8Auctions Qualifying on Saturday at Talladega Superspeedway to win the Busch Pole Award for Sunday’s 49th GEICO 500.
Dominance has become a recurrent 2018 theme for Harvick, driver of the No. 4 Busch Beer Flannel Ford. He won three consecutive races earlier this season, establishing himself as a favorite for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series championship – which he won in 2014.
Saturday, he topped both of the two qualifying rounds. His first-round speed of 194.275 mph on the 2.66-mile tri-oval – Round 1 advanced 12 drivers to Round 2 – was followed by a 194.448 in the second round. That nudged aside his Stewart-Haas Racing teammate Kurt Busch (No. 41 Monster Energy/Haas Automation Ford), who qualified second-fastest at 194.082.
Harvick pulled off the sweep despite a first-round delay linked to teammate Aric Almirola’s car (No. 10 Smithfield Ford), which had tire problems and littered the track with debris. Harvick was next in line to qualify but pulled off the track after discovering he had right-side tire problems from driving through that debris. NASCAR allowed the right-side changes and Harvick then went out to set Round 1’s fast lap.
In Round 2, Harvick was the last driver on-track. The pole was his first at Talladega since the 2005 GEICO 500.
“Really proud of our team,” Harvick said. “We’ve never really qualified that well but we’ve made some big improvements during the off-season. In a fast car here at Talladega and starting up front, that will definitely be good.
“I feel like the experience we have with our team will go a long ways [Sunday]. But you never know the circumstances that are going to be thrown at you in this particular race. You never know what you’re going to have to overcome. So, we’ll just battle all day and try to stay up front.”
Busch, the 2004 Monster Energy Series champion, has never started on the pole at either Talladega or Daytona International Speedway, the two high-banked tri-ovals on the series schedule.
“I’ve never been on the pole for a superspeedway race and I wanted to check it off,” Busch said. “It’s a bucket list thing.”
The GEICO 500 defending champion Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (No. 17 Fifth Third Bank Ford) qualified seventh at 191.904. Stenhouse is seeking to become the fifth driver to win the race in consecutive years.
Also Saturday, Spencer Gallagher (No. 23 Allegiant Chevrolet) won the NASCAR Xfinity Series’ Sparks Energy 300 in a race that required two laps of “NASCAR Overtime” due to a late-race caution, pushing the race distance to 115 laps. During that caution period, two race leaders – Justin Allgaier and Austin Cindric – ran out of gas.
On the final lap, Gallagher snaked past the latest leader, Tyler Reddick (No. 9 Armour Chili Chevrolet), then scooted free of the field – moving to the inside, blocking on the outside and ultimately outrunning runner-up Brandon Jones (No. 19 XYO Networks Toyota) to the flag by 0.152 seconds.
“The only thing going through my mind was ‘I hope the hell this works,’’’ said Gallagher after claiming his first career NASCAR Xfinity Series victory – making him the series’ third first-time winner at Talladega.
“Man, it didn’t seem real there for a while. That whole last lap was kind of a dream. You hear your spotter talking to you in the background but all you’re really doing is looking in your mirror …. it’s always wild, the last lap at Talladega, but we brought it home, baby. We got it done.”
Four drivers – Elliott Sadler, Christopher Bell, Matt Tifft and Cindric – competed for a $100,000 Dash 4 Cash bonus. The cash went to Sadler (No. 1 OneMain Financial Chevrolet), whose dramatic last-lap charge produced a fifth-place finish, the best result of the four eligible drivers.
Ticket information for the 49th GEICO 500 and all Talladega Superspeeedway events is available on-line at www.talladegasuperspeedway.com or by calling (855) 518-RACE (7223).
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