KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) — Kyle Larson was fastest in final practice at Kansas Speedway on Saturday, though it was Kevin Harvick who confirmed his favorite status for Sunday’s Sprint Cup race.
Harvick, who won from the pole in last year’s Chase race, will again start on the pole after shattering his own Kansas track record in qualifying on Friday. Harvick had a quick lap of 189.607 in final practice, just off the pace set by Larson midway through Happy Hour.
“Our car was really good here last time,” said Harvick, who has started on the pole eight times this season. “Obviously, very similar to the things we did here in the first race.”
The points reset among the 12 drivers who advanced to the three-race “contender” phase of the Chase, which begins with Kansas and continues at Charlotte and Talladega. That means those who are still alive in NASCAR’s playoffs are hoping to get off to a good start this weekend.
Chase contenders Kasey Kahne, Ryan Newman and Kyle Busch certainly appear to have some speed, rounding out the top five in practice. Jeff Gordon and Joey Logano were close behind.
Logano will start fourth on Sunday. Gordon will start fifth.
“To be in the top five is a great place to start, and that is higher than where we started when we ran this race in May,” said Gordon, who went on to win the first race of the season at Kansas. “The car has felt excellent all day long, so pretty happy.”
Joe Gibbs Racing drivers Denny Hamlin and Matt Kenseth weren’t nearly as pleased.
While their teammate Busch crept up the speed chart, they struggled to coax every mile per hour out of their Toyotas. Hamlin was 13th in practice and Kenseth was 25th.
“It’s just disappointing we can’t have any more speed out of our cars,” Hamlin said after Friday’s qualifying. “We’ll try as hard as we can to move up. We’re going to have to come from the tail end of the pack, but it’s a track position race so maybe we’ll play the strategy right and sneak a good finish out of here.”
Jimmie Johnson will come from deepest in the field on Sunday after spinning out in the first round of qualifying. He was just 21st on the speed chart Saturday.
“The mile-and-a-half tracks are our bread and butter,” Johnson said. “This year we’ve been competitive but not dominant. And that’s what we’re looking to get sorted out here pretty late in the season. And we can run well, but we prefer to have more control than we do right now. And with as many mile-and-a-halves left on the schedule, we’ve got to get there.”
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