Harvick edges Hamlin for pole at Richmond

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Kevin Harvick won the pole for the NASCAR Cup Series race at Richmond Raceway.
Harvick turned a lap at 121.880 mph on Friday night to edge hometown favorite Denny Hamlin, whose best lap came at 121.847 mph. After several years as the last opportunity for drivers to qualify for the 10-race playoffs, Saturday night’s race marks the first time Richmond is part of the playoffs.
Harvick never practiced for qualifying before winning his third pole of the season.
“We didn’t really fall off. I think that is part of the game here,” he said. “I think we made some good adjustments on making the car better and for me just getting more confidence in how fast I could let the car roll and stay in the throttle up off the corner. In the first round we didn’t really know what we had and ran a lap less than a lot of the faster guys.”
The pole is the second for Harvick at Richmond and his 24th in 638 career starts.
Despite not prepping for qualifying, Harvick said he expected to run well.
“I am really pleased with our car in race trim and we were able to put together three rounds and squeak through in the second round and make good adjustments to the car,” he said.
Points leader and defending series champion Martin Truex Jr. will start third on Saturday night, followed by Ryan Blaney, Daniel Suarez, Kurt Busch, Aric Almirola and Brad Keselowski, the winner of the last three races in the series. Erik Jones and Kyle Larson round out the top 10.
Hamlin, seeking his first victory of the season after 27 races, will enter the race 16th among the 16 drivers in the championship chase after crashing out of last weekend’s race at Las Vegas. But he has won three times at the 0.75-mile track about 20 miles from where he grew up.
“I feel like if there’s any racetrack that I have an advantage at, it’s this one,” he said.
“I wish I wasn’t in this position,” he added. “I wish we could come here honestly and have a mediocre race and continue to move on, but I don’t mind this either. I don’t mind having to go out there and know I have to run top-five in every stage, top-five in the race just to get ourselves somewhat near that cut line and then, when we get to Charlotte, handle business there.”