HAMPTON, Ga. (AP) — Kevin Harvick took yet another pole, this time with a big assist from Tony Stewart in the team owner’s return to the track.
Harvick, in his first season with Stewart-Haas Racing, turned a fast lap of 190.398 mph Friday night to win the pole for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race Sunday night at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
It was Harvick’s series-leading sixth pole of the season. He was the top qualifier for the second straight week after also topping qualifying at Bristol.
Despite his success in qualifying this season, Harvick said a poor first round of qualifying left him in need of guidance from Stewart, the co-owner of the team.
“The first run wasn’t very good due to the driver not doing a good job,” Harvick said.
Stewart, who qualified 12th in his return to racing, gave some pointers on where to race on the track. Stewart sat out three races after the sprint car he was driving struck and killed 20-year-old Kevin Ward Jr. Ward had stepped on the upstate New York dirt track to confront Stewart during the Aug. 9 race.
“I felt like I had made a mistake the first run and never really got in the rhythm of doing exactly what he was doing,” Harvick said. “He told me to go back to the way I was practicing and used to going around racetracks.
“It was definitely the right decision. He was definitely a big help in making sure. He had already run, knowing that it was going to be better lower.”
Brad Keselowski will join Harvick on the front row after qualifying second at 190.058. Rounding out the top five were Kyle Larson, Ryan Newman and Matt Kenseth.
Stewart read a prepared statement in a news conference before the qualifying.
“It is good to have Tony back, obviously to be able to communicate with him and talk about racing and take that first step back,” Harvick said.
After Harvick won the pole, he was approached by Stewart.
“It was just congratulations, good job and talking about what each other did with our cars,” Harvick said. “It was all racing.”
Keselowski said he was “very pumped” to qualify second.
“I just wish it would have been one more spot, and that’s first place instead of second,” Keselowski said. “That’s the way it goes. Maybe we can find that one more spot here Sunday night. The car has been really fast so far.”
The Atlanta race is the next-to-last opportunity for drivers to land one of 16 spots in the Chase for the Sprint Cup. Twelve racers, including Harvick and Keselowski, already have secured their spots. Kenseth and Newman are in good position to clinch spots Sunday night.
Points leader Jeff Gordon qualified ninth. Dale Earnhardt Jr., who is chasing Gordon, was 20th. Joey Logano was 14th.
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