Harvick wins Charlotte pole; Cup leader Larson starts last

CONCORD, N.C. (AP) Kevin Harvick was all smiles at qualifying Thursday night at Charlotte, while NASCAR Cup Series points leader Kyle Larson was left bitter and frustrated heading into an important weekend of racing.

Harvick will start on the pole for the Coca-Cola 600 on Sunday after turning a lap of 193.424 mph on the 1 1/2-mile oval, while Larson will begin NASCAR's longest race at the rear of the field after his No. 42 Chevy failed to get through prequalifying inspection in time for him to make a qualifying lap.

''I know all of the teams hate it,'' Larson said about the prequalifying system. ''The teams point at NASCAR, and NASCAR points at the teams. It's all confusing to me.''

Larson had hit the wall in practice, which didn't help his cause because it set his crew behind working on repairs. It turns out there was nothing wrong with Larson's car, but the crew didn't get it on the platform right away. Once the car passed inspection, he couldn't get the engine to start and ran out of time.

For Harvick, it was his third pole this season and 20th overall.

It's only the second time a Ford won the pole in the last 16 Cup races at Charlotte.

''It was breathtaking because it was so edgy to drive,'' Harvick said. ''But loose is fast. ... We have been running well and tonight was no different. It was a hairy lap but the car went well through turns three and four.''

Starting on the pole could be a good omen for Harvick.

A year ago, Martin Truex Jr. grabbed the pole and went on to lead 392 out of 400 laps to take home the Coca-Cola 600 in impressive fashion.

Kyle Busch, the All-Star race winner Saturday, will start alongside Harvick on the front row. Chase Elliott will start third, followed by Matt Kenseth, Erik Jones and Denny Hamlin.

Busch has won a combined 15 Xfinity and Trucks Series races at Charlotte, but has never won a Cups points race here. He is 0 for 26 heading into Sunday.

''It doesn't matter where you start, it is where you finish with this long grueling race,'' Busch said. ''But it does give us great pit position and that will help.''

Busch won the All-Star race after a late pass on a restart to take home the $1 million prize.

Although he said he wasn't the fastest car in the right field last week he was able to put himself in the right position at the right time. Busch said his team talked extensively about changes this week.

''We definitely unloaded with a different package,'' Busch said.

The Coca-Cola 600 will feature four stage points, instead of the normal three for most NASCAR races. Harvick said while he doesn't think it will change anyone's strategy, it will definitely impact the points standings.

''It's long, it's hot and it's a demanding race track,'' Harvick said. ''You better be ready physically and mentally to hold that pace for four or five hours.''

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More AP Auto Racing: ap.racing.org

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