LAS VEGAS (AP) — Kevin Harvick won the pole at Las Vegas Motor Speedway for the first time in his 19-year NASCAR Cup Series career.
Harvick turned a lap in 29.914 seconds Friday in his Stewart-Haas Racing Ford, beating out Daytona 500 winner Denny Hamlin and his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate, hometown hero Kyle Busch, for the top spot in Sunday's race.
Harvick secured his 26th career pole only because NASCAR ruled Alex Bowman and Chase Elliott didn't start their faster final laps before time expired in the last heat of a qualifying session in which drivers were allowed to draft off their competitors.
"I told everybody before we qualified that the fastest car wasn't going to get the pole," Harvick said after securing his first pole of the season. "As a team, we go out and play by the rules that are presented to us. It's going to come down to timing and strategy."
All 12 drivers in the five-minute final session waited until the last 90 seconds to attempt a run, all leaving the pits at roughly the same time.
Bowman and Elliott posted the day's two fastest times on their second laps, but those times didn't count because neither driver made it to the line before time expired. Bowman was upset after missing it by less than a second.
"It's interesting," Busch said. "It's not about the fastest car, it's about putting yourself in the right position and you have to have some luck on your side to get to the start-finish before time runs out."
Harvick, who reached 180.517 mph, is the defending champion in the early season race at Las Vegas. He led a track-record 214 laps last year while earning his 100th career victory across the three national series.