With positioning at the Oral-B USA 500 at the Atlanta Motor Speedway on the line, Kevin Harvick set the tone Friday night.
Harvick posted the best time in the final round of the elimination qualifying and grabbed the pole position heading into the weekend's race. NASCAR Stats highlighted the accomplishment and noted that it was business as usual for Mr. Harvick when it comes to securing pole position:
Here is a look at Harvick and the rest of the top 12 from Friday night:
|Pos.||Driver||Best Speed||Best Time||Behind|
|6||Martin Truex Jr.||188.918||29.346||.228|
One storyline of note heading into qualifying was the fact that this event is Tony Stewart's first time back on the track since the fatal crash that ended Kevin Ward Jr's. life.
Pole winner Harvick commented on the development before qualifying, via Pat DeCola of NASCAR.com:
I'm least concerned about the racing side of it. I know for him, that'll be great medicine to have some type of normal activity in his life again that he hasn't been able to have. From a personal standpoint, I'm glad to see my friend and be able to talk to him and be able to support him through what will probably end up being the hardest situation he's ever had to go through in his entire life. That to me is the most important thing, and I just can't wait to see him.
Stewart was up to the challenge Friday, though, and made it to the final round of qualifying. While he likely would have preferred a better finish than 12th place, he will be in solid position for the race at Atlanta Motor Speedway to contend with friend Harvick and the rest of the top finishers.
Friday's qualifying had three stages. The first round lasted 25 minutes and allowed all 44 drivers to take laps around the course, with the top 24 advancing. Those 24 participated in the 10-minute second round, which eliminated the field to a final 12 who competed for the pole.
Matt Kenseth got off to a fast start in that initial round, as FOX Sports NASCAR noted:
However, Aric Almirola eventually bumped him with a time of 28.984, which was the best time in that first round. Of more importance were the eliminations though, and Danica Patrick and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. were the notable names among the early cuts.
Atlanta Motor Speedway summed up the first round and set up the next:
Kenseth set the pace in the second round, but notable names like Jeff Gordon and Stewart finished in the top 12 as well. NASCAR Stats listed the top 12 after the second round and set the stage for the race to the pole:
Kyle Larson set the early pace in the final round, but Brad Keselowski and Harvick quickly passed him up as the event progressed. In fact, Harvick's time held up over the course of the final round, and NASCAR Stats pointed out his speed:
Incredibly enough, Friday's qualifying victory marks Harvick's sixth pole of the season. He will start in the front row with Keselowski and look to parlay his momentum into a victory.
Who wins Sunday?
Harvick has two wins under his belt in 2014, so he has some momentum on his side. However, with marquee names like Keselowski, Stewart and Gordon, among others, finishing in the top 12 in qualifying Friday, he will have his hands full in Atlanta.
Starting in the pole position is clearly an advantage, but it won't mean anything if he doesn't put together an impressive race. Atlanta is a notoriously fast track, so the race for the checkered flag is sure to be filled with lead changes and tense moments.
Tune in Sunday at 7:30 p.m. ET on ESPN to see if Harvick turns his pole position into a victory.