Harvick takes Cup pole at Texas; nine drivers fail to make qualifying run

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Friday’s three rounds of qualifying for Sunday’s O’Reilly Auto Parts 500 at Texas Motor Speedway wasn’t just a matter of who was fast — but also who failed to make a qualifying run.

Nine drivers failed to get through pre-qualifying inspection and were not allowed to make an attempt, meaning that they’ll start at the back of the field for Sunday’s race.

Let’s break down what happened:

* First, Kevin Harvick swept all three rounds and earned the pole with a speed of 198.405 mph. It was Harvick’s first career Cup pole at Texas, his second pole of the season (also led the field at Atlanta) and the 19th of his NASCAR Cup career.

“It’s been a stressful day,” Harvick said afterwards. “Coming in and breaking in a new race track and going out there running as fast as we had to run for qualifying. I have to say thank you to the Xfinity guys for letting me run that car this weekend because I really think the reps allowed us learn some things that I was able to apply here.”

* On the outside of the front row is another Ford driver, Ryan Blaney, at 198.020 mph, his second front row start of the season. In fact, the first five drivers that will start Sunday’s race will be behind the wheel of a Ford.

Clint Bowyer qualified third (198.020), followed by Joey Logano (197.759), Brad Keselowski (197.563), Jamie McMurray (196.492), Martin Truex Jr. (196.421), Matt Kenseth (196.299), Ryan Newman (195.525), Kurt Busch (195.002), Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (194.517) and Trevor Bayne (192.082).

* The first of three qualifying rounds began with pit road looking almost like a ghost town. Only 16 cars had passed inspection when the session began, leaving 24 cars still waiting to take their turn and pass or fail.

Among those that didn’t make it through inspection before qualifying began were Brad Keselowski, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Chase Elliott, Kyle Busch, Kyle Larson and Jamie McMurray.

Busch suffered minor damage during a wreck in the practice session earlier in the day, but his team was able to repair it rather than go to a backup car.

But all that effort went for naught when Busch failed to get through the full inspection line in time.

As it turned out, Busch wound up being one of nine drivers that failed to make a qualifying run.

All of those drivers will start at the back of the field in Sunday’s race: points leader Kyle Larson (32nd), followed by Chase Elliott (33rd), Kyle Busch (34th), Kasey Kahne (35th), Erik Jones (36th), Dale Earnhardt Jr. (37th), Chris Buescher (38th), Timmy Hill (39th) and Derrike Cope (40th).

* During the opening qualifying session, Jimmie Johnson had just laid down what would be the ninth-fastest effort and then spun out. He did not hit anything and while his car sustained no damage, the same thing couldn’t be said about his tires.

Because Johnson’s tires have to be replaced, he would not advance past the first round and will start 24th (see graphic below from the NASCAR Rule Book).

“When I dumped out of the throttle, it pitched the car sideways and I started chasing it going into the turn,” Johnson told Fox Sports 1. “I thought I had it saved, but then I got in all those marbles and kept getting closer and closer to the wall and spun.

“We have three flat-spotted tires and unfortunately, we won’t be able to continue on.”

* Three of Johnson’s Hendrick Motorsports teammates will start even further back in the pack: Chase Elliott will start 33rd, Kasey Kahne 35th and Dale Earnhardt Jr. 37th.

“I ain’t too worried about it, this race is pretty long,” Earnhardt told Fox Sports 1. “The pit selection bothers you a little bit. … I don’t know what was wrong with our car going through tech, but if you don’t make it, you don’t get out there and I like that, I like the rules being the same for everybody.”

* Because 40 cars are entered, all drivers qualified for Sunday’s race. This marks the first time since Daytona that a NASCAR Cup race has had a full 40-car field this season.

Click here for the full qualifying results.

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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.”