CONCORD, N.C. (AP) — Kevin Harvick has already proven he’s a factor at Charlotte Motor Speedway, especially during night races. With the top starting spot Saturday night, he’ll be tough to beat in the opening race of the second round of NASCAR’s playoffs.
Harvick turned a lap at 196.029 mph in a Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet to earn the top starting spot in Thursday night qualifying. He edged Alex Bowman, the replacement driver for Dale Earnhardt Jr., who is not racing for the championship.
Chase Elliott qualified third and was followed by Kyle Busch, the highest qualifying Toyota driver, Tony Stewart and AJ Allmendinger.
He was followed by Carl Edwards, Denny Hamlin, Joey Logano, the top qualifying Ford driver, and Jimmie Johnson as Chase drivers took eight of the top 11 spots in Thursday night qualifying.
Kasey Kahne qualified 12th as all four Hendrick Motorsports drivers made the final round of qualifying.
But it was Harvick, with his fast lap, who stole the spotlight.
Harvick, the 2014 champion, has been looking forward to racing at Charlotte and a potential automatic berth into the third round of the Chase. Harvick has three career points victories at Charlotte, including the October race during his championship season. That victory pushed Harvick into the round of eight of the Chase.
He’s also has had success racing at night, and Charlotte Motor Speedway President Marcus Smith dubbed Harvick “Nighthawk” because Harvick has not finished outside the top 10 at night in the last seven races. He’s only been outside the top-five twice in that span.
Harvick has also won six times in night races on the NASCAR schedule since 2012.