FORT WORTH, Texas – It was Kevin Harvick’s day Friday at the Texas Motor Speedway.
Harvick led all three rounds of qualifying to capture the pole for Sunday’s 21st annual NASCAR Monster Energy Cup O’Reilly Auto Parts 500 in Forth Worth.
It wasn’t quite the Wild, Wild West but the day began with some pretty wild driving on the newly renovated 1.5-mile tri-oval.
This was the first time NASCAR had been back to the ‘No Limit, Texas’ track since its $5 million dollar facelift.
The Speedway installed a new racing surface, widened the track from 60 to 80 feet and reduced the banking in the first two turns from 24 degrees to 20 degrees.
“It’s a little treacherous out there,” said Trevor Bayne after the first practice session. “If you miss the groove by even a tire width, you could be in trouble.”
“The groove was really, really narrow and just inside and outside of the groove, the track was really dirty,” said Martin Truex Jr. “You saw a number of guys get out of the groove just a little bit and they were done.”
Four of the 40 cars found trouble in their morning runs.
Less than five minutes into practice, Cup driver Denny Hamlin spun between Turns 1 and 2 on his second practice lap Friday.
Hamlin maintained control but some others weren’t as lucky.
Kyle Busch, Chase Elliott and Erik Jones each got loose coming out of Turn 2 and sideswiped the wall.
Busch’s team decided to try to fix the damage while both the Elliott and Jones cars suffered too much damage. Their crews quickly pulled backup race cars from their car haulers.
“I think the re-paving was the biggest factor,” said Jones. “Once we get some rubber laid down and the track widens out, things will get better.”
And things did get better when the cars came back for qualifying.
There was only one car that ran into any kind of trouble – Jimmie Johnson spun out just after completing his qualifying run.
Johnson finished the round with the fourth fastest time but the spinout chewed up his tires and he wasn’t able to come back for the second round of qualifying.
Other than that, it was smooth sailing for Friday’s three rounds of qualifying.
Harvick was the frontrunner all day.
“It’s been an eventful day,” said Harvick. “They finally got rid of that crappy asphalt (surface) so I think that helped me. The race track got better every time we went out there today and I expect it’s going to improve over the weekend. It was really just about me getting into a good rhythm.”
The speed went up and the times down as the drivers raced through the three qualifying rounds.
Harvick was quickest in the first round with a 27.565 second, 195.01 miles per hour lap.
Harvick improved to a 27.306 second, 197.751 mph run in the second round and bettered that with a 27.217/198.405 in the day’s final session.
His Stewart-Haas racing teammate, Clint Bowyer, was hot on his heels finishing second in the first and second rounds.
But Ryan Blaney captured second and the other front row spot for Sunday’s O’Reilly Auto Parts 500 in the final qualifying session, bumping Bowyer back to third.
Joey Logano was fourth with Brad Keselowski fifth.
Jamie McMurray, Martin Truex Jr., Matt Kenseth, Ryan Newman and Kurt Busch rounded out the top 10.
There were nine drivers who never even made it onto the track for qualifying after not passing their pre-race tech inspections – Fontana winner Kyle Larson, Chase Elliott, Kyle Busch, Kasey Kahne, Eric Jones, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Chris Buescher, Timmy Hill and Derrike Cope.
The Xfinity Series is in the spotlight Saturday with the My Bariatric Solutions 300.
The Monster Energy Cup race is set for Sunday.