Kevin Harvick edges Hamlin for Richmond Cup pole

That’s a good way for Kevin Harvick to rebound from a tough NASCAR Cup Series playoff opener.

Harvick saved his best in Friday’s knockout qualifying for last, posting the fastest average lap speed in the final session (121.880 mph) to claim the pole for Saturday night’s Federated Auto Parts 400 at Richmond (Va.) Raceway.

Harvick, who leads the way in the series with seven wins, started the 2018 playoffs with a wreck and 39th-place finish last weekend at Las Vegas.

The pole is Harvick’s third this season and 24th of his career.

“We didn’t do any qualifying runs in practice,” Harvick said. “After we ended our last race run, huge credit to the race team for putting the qualifying set-up underneath it.

“Aric (Almirola) came here and tested and (we) kind of had a baseline for where we needed to shoot for, for targets and things like that.”

Asked about his qualifying performance that saw him no better than 11th through the first two rounds, Harvick said that was “part of the game here.” 

“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,” he said. “In the first round we didn’t really know what we had and ran a lap less than a lot of the faster guys.”

Denny Hamlin ended up second (121.847 mph) and Martin Truex Jr. was third (121.529 mph). Ryan Blaney was fourth and Daniel Suarez, who was fastest in the first two rounds, completed the top-five.

Rounding out the Top 12 starters are Kurt Busch, Aric Almirola, Brad Keselowski, Erik Jones, Kyle Larson, Cole Custer and Kyle Busch, who won the spring race at Richmond.

Round 2

Suarez kept up the pressure, again posting the fastest average lap speed in the second round (122.928 mph).

Blaney ended up second (122.316 mph) and Custer, making just his third series start this season, was third (122.045 mph). Truex and Keselowski completed the top-five.

Also advancing to the final round were Kurt Busch, Larson, Hamlin, Jones, Almirola, Harvick and Kyle Busch.

None of the four drivers from Hendrick Motorsports were able to move out of Round 2, with Alex Bowman topping the organization at 14th-fastest.

Also missing the cut were Joey Logano, Ryan Newman, Jamie McMurray, Matt Kenseth and Paul Menard.

Round 1

Suarez led the way in the first round of knockout qualifying as two playoff contenders failed to advance to Round 2.

Suarez posted the fastest average lap speed (122.912 mph) in the 15-minute session. Kurt Busch was second (122.895 mph) and Keselowski third (122.722 mph). Hamlin and Kenseth rounded out the top-five.

Also in the Top 10 were Jones, Elliott, Kyle Busch, McMurray and Almirola.

Busch made contact with the wall during his final qualifying lap attempt and his No. 18 Toyota appeared to suffer minor damage.

Clint Bowyer (25th) and Austin Dillon (28th) were only drivers in the playoffs who failed to advance to the second round.

Among the others who failed to advance were Darrell Wallace Jr., A.J. Allmendinger, David Ragan and Ty Dillon, who had been fast in Friday’s practice sessions.

Reigning NASCAR Euro champion Alon Day, making his first series start on an oval, was 37th fastest.

Take a virtual lap around Richmond Raceway, courtesy of NASCAR Heat 3, which you can order now:

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