Kevin Harvick will take pole position for the Irwin Tools Night Race on Saturday after a stunning qualifying run at Bristol Motor Speedway that saw him narrowly edge out Jeff Gordon for the top spot.
For big-time NASCAR events, qualifying always feels like a race before the race. There is no way that these top competitors won't take every last inch of space flying around the track at 130-plus miles per hour, so the qualifying positions are a strong indicator of who will be aggressive and confident heading into the actual race day.
Here is the complete race order and final qualifying times for the 500-lap Irwin Tools Night Race.
|Position||Driver||Car No.||Best Time|
Full qualifying results can be found at NASCAR.com.
There's a good chance that NBC Sports' Marty Snider's reaction to the top times of Gordon and Harvick represent the feelings of numerous NASCAR fans:
Should we be surprised at all that the two fastest cars for the last month (Harvick and Gordon) start 1-2 tomorrow at Bristol?— Marty Snider (@heymartysnider) August 22, 2014
Indeed, it was a smooth, fast and confident run by Harvick, who is currently sixth in the Sprint Cup Series standings with two wins and seven top-five finishes on the season, per NASCAR.com.
For a driver with his experience and skill, pole position almost guarantees him another top-10 finish, and his recent run of strong performances, including second-place runs in the Pure Michigan 400 and GoBowling.com 400, make him a fantastic bet to pull off a top-three finish at Bristol.
Of course, Gordon is a force of nature in his own right, and for a time, it looked like he would handily take the pole position in Bristol. As SB Nation's Jordan Bianchi noted, the current Sprint Cup Series standings leader's lap from the first round of qualifying set a track record:
With a lap that broke the track-record, Jeff Gordon is on the provisional pole entering Round 2 of qualifying. Weather is fast approaching.— Jordan Bianchi (@Jordan_Bianchi) August 22, 2014
Lowercase letters couldn't appropriately express this fan's excitement at the news:
JEFF GORDON TO PROVISIONAL POLE!! NEW TRACK RECORD.— Evan Beaulieu (@EBeaulieu56) August 22, 2014
The celebratory mood would be short-lived, although Gordon will surely take a gratifying outside pole position for Saturday's race.
USA Today's Jeff Gluck noted the exact moment that Harvick took over pole position for the race:
And there goes Kevin Harvick to P1 with 5:50 to go.— Jeff Gluck (@jeff_gluck) August 22, 2014
NASCAR on ESPN noted that at least one driver took on some damage during the qualifying rounds:
Aric Almirola has also suffered damage in the first round of qualifying. Harvick tops the charts 8 minutes into the first session.— NASCAR on ESPN (@ESPNNASCAR) August 22, 2014
Lurking in fifth place is defending Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson, who is no stranger to excellent qualifying performances. He's currently seventh in the Sprint Cup standings and may need some serious help from those ahead of him to gain ground and try to retain his cup title.
Joey Logano gained plenty of ground after the first round of qualifying. Shell Racing US noted he didn't get off to a very hot start on Friday:
If there is a favorite for this race, look no further than Jeff Gordon. He's coming off a much-needed victory in the Pure Michigan 400.
"Certainly things are going well—there's no doubt about that," Gordon said, via The Associated Press (h/t ESPN.com). "I'm as shocked as anybody else."
Gordon's last victory in Michigan prior to last weekend's race came all the way back in 2001. He should have plenty of confidence to go along with his excellent qualifying time. Look for him to spoil Harvick's moment in the spotlight and cement his hold on the lead in the Sprint Cup Series.