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Hard as it may seem to believe, Kevin Harvick still seeking first Texas Cup win

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Kevin Harvick is one of the most prolific drivers in NASCAR. Regardless whether it’s been NASCAR Cup, the Xfinity Series or the Camping World Truck Series, Harvick has enjoyed success across the board.

All told, the Bakersfield, California native has a combined 95 wins across NASCAR’s top three national series: 35 in Cup, 46 in Xfinity and 14 in Trucks.

Six of those wins have come at Texas Motor Speedway: five in Xfinity and one in Trucks.

But as hard as it may seem to believe, Harvick has never taken home the ceremonial cowboy hat and pair of six-shooters for winning a Cup race at the 1.5-mile track. Texas is one of four tracks that Harvick has never won a Cup race at. The others are Kentucky, Pocono and Sonoma.

With a new, untested surface that will have Cup cars on it for the first time this weekend, Harvick may have his best chance of winning a Cup race deep in the heart of Texas.

All drivers will be on the same page because of the recently completed repaving. And that could be to Harvick’s advantage, as he’s one of the best when it comes to driving a new track by feel.

For example, he won the first race at Chicagoland Speedway when that 1.5-mile oval opened in 2001, and followed it up with another win the following year as well.

Harvick has made 28 Cup starts to date at Texas, with an average finish of 12.0 and an average start of 17.9.

The driver of the No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet has six top-fives, including back-to-back runner-up finishes in fall 2014 and spring 2015, his highest showings there. He also has two third-place finishes and two other top-five finishes.

That’s plenty of incentive already to win at Texas. But there’s more.

Harvick has struggled this season by his usual performance standards. He has yet to win or earn a top-five. His best finishes have been sixth (Phoenix) and ninth (Atlanta).

Harvick will not only race in Sunday’s main event, he’ll get some additional track time in Saturday’s Xfinity Series race.

“When we picked Texas, it was just a racetrack I like to race at and a market they (Hunt Brothers Pizza) wanted to be in,” Harvick said in a media release. “Little did we know it was going to be part of a repave and now it’s part of this weekend.

“It’s really going to be beneficial for me to see how the race track evolves and progresses throughout the weekend. To get a race underneath my belt on Saturday before we have to get in the car on Sunday is something where you can take a lot of information from the same tires and same air pressures. Just from the driver’s standpoint, to see where to drive on the racetrack is going to be very beneficial.”

Texas’ new racing surface is an unknown, but Harvick is ready.

“It does feel like we’re going in somewhat blind,” he said. “(TMS track president) Eddie Gossage spent a lot of time talking to the drivers and really trying to figure out what they could do to make their race track better since they were going to have to repave it.

“Turns one and two are much wider with a little bit less banking. The hope is that we’ll be able to carry a little more speed in there and have to use some brakes to slow the cars down. Turns three and four are virtually the same. They put a lot of thought into making things different.

“I think it’s going to be a great challenge. It’s like going to the roller-coaster park and getting on a roller coaster that scares you to death the first time. There’s nothing like going out there and getting scared to death, sliding around trying to figure out where you’re going. There’s a lot more to think about than normal.”

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Grant Enfinger wins Truck pole at Gateway

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With a speed of 138.867 mph, Grant Enfinger scored his second career Camping World Truck Series pole and will lead the field to green tonight for the Eaton 200. His first pole came on the restrictor plate Daytona International Speedway in February 2016.

Noah Gragson set a track record in round two of qualification with a speed of 139.035 mph. He slipped to third in the running order during round three.

Enfinger beat Christian Eckes (138.594 mph) by .064 seconds. Eckes is making only his second start in the Truck series. Last week he started ninth and finished eighth at Iowa Speedway.

Gragson (138.402), Justin Haley (138.325) and Ben Rhodes (138.211) rounded out the top five.

Johnny Sauter (137.358) failed to advance to the final round of qualification and will start 13th.

Camden Murphy and BJ McLeod failed to qualify.

Click here for the complete lineup.

Starting lineup for Sunday’s Cup race at Sonoma

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Kyle Larson won his second consecutive pole at Sonoma and will lead the field to the green flag for Sunday’s Toyota/SaveMart 350 at Sonoma Raceway.

Martin Truex Jr. will line up alongside Larson on the front row.

Chase Elliott qualified third, the best of three Hendrick Motorsports drivers who advanced to the top 12. Jamie McMurray qualified fourth to place both Chip Ganassi Racing on the first two rows.

AJ Allmendinger rounded out the top five.

Click here for full qualification results.

 

Kyle Larson wins pole for Sonoma Cup race

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Kyle Larson posted a lap of 94.597 mph to win the pole for Sunday’s Toyota/SaveMart 350. It was his second consecutive pole at Sonoma and the sixth of his career.

Larson beat Martin Truex Jr. (94.484 mph) by .090 seconds.

Chase Elliott (94.461), Jamie McMurray (94.227) and AJ Allmendinger (93.925) rounded out the top five. He was fastest in round one of qualification with a speed of 94.477 mph.

Hendrick Motorsports placed three of their drivers in the final round. Jimmie Johnson (93.824) qualified seventh. William Byron (93.756) qualified eighth. Alex Bowman (93.267) qualified 17th.

In his first race back since Matt Kenseth took over the No. 6 Roush Fenway Racing Ford, Trevor Bayne barely missed advancing to the final round. With a speed of 93.455 mph, he qualified 13th.

Clint Bowyer (93.252) was unable to back up his time from Friday’s practice and will roll off the grid 19th.

Click here for full qualification results.

For Clint Bowyer, Sonoma Raceway is a lot like Martinsville

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Clint Bowyer didn’t grow up road racing; he cut his teeth on dirt tracks in the Midwest. And yet, he had an immediate affinity for Sonoma Raceway. In his second start there, while driving for Richard Childress in 2007, he finished fourth.

In fact, Bowyer enters the Toyota/SaveMart 350 with seven top-five finishes in 12 starts that includes a runner-up finish in last year’s Sonoma race. If not for a couple of misfortunes (crash damage in 2010 and an electrical problem in 2016), he might well have swept the top 10 since scoring that first top five as a sophomore.

Perhaps the reason for that immediate success is that he considers Sonoma to be a twisted version of Martinsville Speedway – a track on which he won this March to snap a 190-race winless streak.

“I think you embrace this track and road racing in general just like you do Martinsville,” Bowyer said on Friday before heading out to put his No. 14 Ford at the top of the first practice speed chart. “Nobody shows up at Martinsville and goes to the top of the board and is fast and has success and navigates traffic to win that race right off the bat. It just doesn’t happen and it doesn’t happen here either.”

His Sonoma success has not translated to road courses in general, however.

Yes, Bowyer swept the top five on NASCAR’s two road courses last year, but the fifth-place finish he scored at Watkins Glen International was only the second of his career on a track that many drivers consider to be less technical than Sonoma. In 12 starts there, he has earned only five top 10s.

“Watkins Glen is so fast. It is just dive-bombs and you are really carrying a lot of speed at a place like Watkins Glen.

“Here, it is like that short track. It is like being at Martinsville. Did you see my car at the end of the race last year? It was destroyed. I drove up through and passed the field twice because of mistakes that we made and got spun out once. It was a wild race to be able to finish second. You can’t do that at Watkins Glen. That car wouldn’t have ran in the top 10 at Watkins Glen.”

Nine different drivers have won at Sonoma in the last nine races. Given the dominance of Harvick (who won last year) and Kyle Busch (the 2015 winner), many think they are the most likely to end that streak. But Bowyer also has an opportunity to end the streak of unique winners. He won the 2012 edition of this race by holding off Tony Stewart – the driver with the second-most road course wins in NASCAR history.

“You have to be able to have fun on this race track,” Bowyer said. “It is a challenge. Each and every corner is different. There is no perfect setup or perfect line. It is literally one of the only tracks you go to where you are out there racing and have a smile on your face. You might even get a chuckle.”