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Kevin Harvick ends 254-race pole drought @kansasspeedway . #nascar— brant james (@brantjames) October 4, 2013
KANSAS CITY, Kan. -- The Mexican food and chocolate milk shake almost certainly had nothing to do with Kevin Harvick winning the pole for the Hollywood Casino 400 on Friday at Kansas Speedway.
But with trends difficult to isolate when such a successful driver goes seven seasons between starts at the front of a Sprint Cup field, Harvick's Thursday night gastric bomb might be his fattening formula for negating a 39-point shortfall to Chase for the Sprint Cup leader Matt Kenseth.
Factor in that one of Harvick's dinner companions, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., was right behind him in the time trials and they might be on to something.
"We were definitely headed down a path, of, uh, I don't even know what you would call it," Harvick said with a laugh. "A bad evening leading into bed. It was good fuel. That had to be it."
Harvick covered the 1.5-mile oval at 187.526 mph. Rookie Stenhouse was second (187.480), followed by Jimmie Johnson (187.162), who is second in driver points, eight behind Kenseth.
The points leader qualified seventh as Chase contenders experienced otherwise middling results on a blustery afternoon preceding a major storm front. Joey Logano was fifth, Dale Earnhardt Jr. sixth, Carl Edwards ninth, Jeff Gordon 14th, Kasey Kahne 15th, Ryan Newman 17th, Kyle Busch 18th, Kurt Busch 19th, Clint Bowyer 22nd and Greg Biffle 26th.
The qualifying result was more of the same unsatisfying news at Kansas for Kyle Busch, who is amid a potentially critical weekend, attempting to maintain the torrid early-Chase tempo set by him, Kenseth and Johnson. Busch is third in points, 12 behind his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate, but unlike Kenseth and Johnson is statistically woeful at Kansas, with an average finish of 22.4 in 12 starts. Kenseth has won consecutive races at Kansas, and like Johnson, has two wins and six top-5s here.
Johnson's No. 48 Chevrolet showed no residual problems from a morning spin and a second moment that saw the car belch blue smoke during the first practice session.
"I just showed up ready to go this morning and my first lap I got loose off of [Turn] 4," Johnson said. "I was just trying real hard to get a good qualifying lap out there and spun and luckily kept it off the wall. And then later in the session, we had issue with an oil cooler and radiator in the front of the car that created the smoke. Hopefully we got all of our bad luck out of the way for the weekend and we have good sailing from here."
Though Harvick has never been concerned about his pedestrian qualifying history -- he has six poles in 459 races -- the ability to secure the pit stall at the exit end of pit road is beneficial, he said, at a track where track position and pit strategy are often paramount.
Harvick had not won a pole in 254 races, dating to September 2006 at Loudon, N.H. He went on to lead 196 of 300 laps in a win that jumped him from third to the points lead for a week. Richard Childress Racing had not started from the front since 2007. Harvick's pole might have been an aberration, but his speed on Friday was not. The No. 29 Chevrolet paced the first practice session with a best lap of 185.223 mph in 29.154 seconds.
"Throughout my career, for whatever reason, we just hadn't qualified well," Harvick said. "We always seem to race a lot better than we qualify. Today we had speed in the car right off the bat."
-- Brant James
Sprint Cup points leader Matt Kenseth would have preferred absolutely no changes to the package NASCAR and Goodyear deployed for this weekend's fourth race in the Chase for the Sprint Cup (2 p.m. ET, ESPN and WatchESPN) at Kansas Speedway.
"Anytime something is new and you struggle where you've had success, you kind of wish you could go back," he said.
Of course. He enters Sunday seeking his third consecutive win at the 1.5-mile oval after claiming the Chase race last fall and the installment this spring.
And after a planned four-hour test session that was abbreviated by rain Thursday, Kenseth said he was "struggling" to adapt to the new "multizone" right tires to be used here this week for the first time, but he and most of his competitors seemed relatively unfazed by the change. That's just what NASCAR and Goodyear officials wanted.
"Typically we don't have a midseason code change on the tires between a spring and a fall race, but this is a unique set of circumstances, I think, with the repaves," NASCAR vice president of competition Robin Pemberton said. "It's a test that they really didn't have planned on the books to do midyear, but we felt, along with Goodyear, it was better to get another tire out here on the racetrack instead of what we ran in the spring."
The tire, which uses a standard outer zone for grip but a more heat-resistant center for endurance, was used this fall on the coarse surface at Atlanta Motor Speedway with positive results, Sprint Cup race director John Darby said. Using the multizone tires at Kansas -- which is smooth after a repave in 2012 -- should help NASCAR discern at what other tracks they would be appropriate.
-- Brant James
RT @NASCARStats: Smoke coming out of the back of Jimmie Johnson's No. 48. He took it to the garage. #NASCAR— Kansas Speedway (@kansasspeedway) October 4, 2013
Greg Biffle, who enters the weekend in sixth place, 41 points behind Matt Kenseth, was the slowest of three Roush Fenway Racing cars in the first practice session on Friday, and said the new multi-zone tire may not be conducive to the setup he had previously used at Kansas Speedway on the No. 16 Ford. If it's not the tire, he's really confounded.
"It may have thrown us off a little bit," said Biffle, who was 25th on the speed chart, compared to eighth for Carl Edwards and 15th for Ricky Stenhouse Jr. "We unloaded identical to Carl and Ricky with all our cars exactly the same. The 16 car did both tire tests here and was very fast.
"The other cars are pretty good and we aren't. We are kind of scratching our head at what happened. So, we will continue to work on it. There is a gremlin in there somewhere. It is a different right-side tire than what we did test here. We never tested this particular right-side tire. Maybe with our car it is just a little bit different."
-- Brant James
We love you [ and all our fans ] too! RT @tvsmike: Dear @kansasspeedway, I love you. pic.twitter.com/fTl7QNutb7— Kansas Speedway (@kansasspeedway) October 4, 2013
Jamie McMurray expects Sprint Cup teammate Kyle Larson to be a regular around the Earnhardt Ganassi Racing shop once he replaces Juan Pablo Montoya in the No. 42 Chevrolet next year. And that, he said, is likely to be extremely beneficial to his team as the highly lauded, highly successful 21-year-old completes his rapid arc from USAC national champion to fulltimer at NASCAR's top level in just four years.
Larson moved to the Charlotte area when NASCAR became his career path while Montoya -- who was not re-signed after seven full seasons and will joining Team Penske in the IndyCar Series next season -- maintained residence in Miami.
"Just the team morale, getting to go into the shop and see the guys … it's hard for Juan because he lives so far away and normally when he would come to the shop it's for a reason," McMurray said. "You don't always have time to hang out and just kind of goof off. Normally when you're there it's when you have a photo shoot or because they needed him for something. That's a little bit tough with Juan living so far away, but Kyle is one of those guys I think that will be at the shop a lot. That will be kind of his hangout throughout the day."
Though he and Larson are admittedly at "different stages" of life -- McMurray, 37, is married, with two children -- common interests are likely to create a bond that didn't exist with Montoya.
"Juan and I really don't have a relationship away from the race track," he said. "I don't know that's that important, but the fact that Kyle and I are both into karting and can go out and do that and just hang out and goof off …
"When you have a common hobby and something you can go do together and hang out and maybe become little better friends along with teammates, I think that's going to be good."
-- Brant James
That @DanicaPatrick moved up to the high-point district at @kansasspeedway . relax. It was a parking issue. #nascar pic.twitter.com/jL10S8I0qg— brant james (@brantjames) October 4, 2013
Danica Patrick said flirting with boyfriend and fellow rookie of the year candidate Ricky Stenhouse Jr. in Colt Ford's newly released "Drivin' Around" video was an easy part to play.
"That was not acting," she said. "That was not hard. When I look at him I smile, so that was not hard."
Patrick, who has co-starred in three videos -- the last two for country acts including Miranda Lambert -- steals a golf cart with Ford and rollicks through the roads of Mooresville, N.C., as Stenhouse Jr. labors over fixing her truck back in the shop.
-- Brant James
Kevin Harvick, who is tied for fourth in points, 39 back of leader Matt Kenseth, led the first Sprint Cup practice session at Kansas Speedway on Friday at 185.223 mph (29.154 seconds) around the 1.5-mile track.
Kyle Busch, who is in third place, 12 back, was second-fastest (185.179). Jimmie Johnson (185.134) was third. Kenseth was 13th (184.030).
-- Brant James
James Hylton, 79, will make his last start as a driver tonight in the ARCA season finale at Kansas Speedway.
Hylton, from Inman, S.C., made 602 Sprint Cup starts -- the most recent in 1993 -- with wins for his self-owned team at Richmond (1970) and Talladega (1972). At Darlington Raceway in 2011, he became the oldest driver to enter a Nationwide Series race. Hylton attempted unsuccessfully to qualify for the 2007 Daytona 500.
-- Brant James