Life is easier on Fridays for Kevin Harvick.
That hasn’t always been the case.
Harvick has never been known as a particularly good qualifier but Friday night he won the pole for Sunday night’s Oral-B 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway – his sixth of the 2014 season.
Harvick only amassed six poles in his prior 13 fulltime seasons in the series. This also marks the first time in his career he’s won the pole for consecutive races (he also won last weekend at Bristol, Tenn.).
“The qualifying stuff has obviously been a major focus on what we’ve done. I think it’s kept us in a lot of races, especially early-on in the season,” said Harvick, who has Sprint Cup Series wins this season and is already qualified for the Chase.
“You get an advantage on pit road. Last week we were win contention for a top-three or top-four finish if it weren’t for my speeding penalty on pit road.
“It gives me a lot of confidence each week.”
Brad Keselowski will start second, Kyle Larson third, Ryan Newman fourth and Matt Kenseth fifth.
Tony Stewart, making his return to a race track after sitting out the past three races, will line up 12th. On Aug. 9, a sprint car driven by Stewart struck and killed driver Kevin Ward Jr., who was standing on the track while the race was under caution at an upstate New York dirt track.
Stewart receives waiver: NASCAR president Mike Helton, in a separate news conference, welcomed Stewart back to the garage.
Then he announced that, because Stewart’s situation is “unique,” he will get a waiver from the rules and be eligible for the Chase, NASCAR’s 10-race championship playoff, should he win Sunday’s race at Atlanta or the Sept. 6 race at Richmond, Va.
Stewart has not won a race in 21 starts this season.
The waiver got mixed reviews among NASCAR participants, most of whom elected not to comment publicly on the issue.
Driver Greg Biffle said he was glad to see Stewart back at the track but when it came to the waiver, “I really don’t have a comment on NASCAR’s decision.”
Brian Vickers said he appreciated NASCAR understood the unique circumstances of Stewart’s situation but also admitted the sanctioning body had now “set a precedent” in regards to issuing the waivers.
Earnhardt gets new look: Nationwide Insurance will get an early start on its sponsorship of Dale Earnhardt Jr. in the Cup series when its logos appears on his No. 88 Chevrolet in the Sept. 6 race at Richmond, Va.
In May, Nationwide announced it would join Earnhardt’s Hendrick Motorsports team for a majority of races in the 2015 season.
The paint scheme, designed with help from Earnhardt, will be unveiled on social media on Wednesday.
Chevy goes pink: Chevrolet is again supporting the American Cancer Society’s “Making Strides Against Breast Cancer” campaign with a special pink Chevrolet SS pace car program and Cup series races at Atlanta, Talladega, Ala., and Martinsville, Va.
For every lap a pink Chevrolet SS pace car leads under caution during those three races, Chevrolet will donate $250 to the American Cancer Society.
More testing: A number of team tests will take place next week. Stewart-Haas Racing and Front Row Motorsports will test at New Hampshire Motor Speedway on Tuesday and Wednesday.
Joe Gibbs Racing and Team Penske will test at Charlotte Motor Speedway, also on Tuesday and Wednesday.