Kyle Larson wins pole for AAA 400

DOVER — The comfort level at Dover International Speedway is such for Kyle Larson that he knows good things will soon be coming for him.

He believes he has gained a friend in a track known as the “Monster Mile.”

Larson, a 25-year-old driver from Elk Grove, California, got his weekend at Dover off to a fast start by rocketing to the pole position on a steamy Friday afternoon for Sunday’s AAA Drive for Autism Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race.

Larson managed to post the quickest laps in both the second and third rounds of the three-round knockout qualifying format – but it was the 158.103 mph lap in the third round that enabled him to record his first pole position on Dover’s high-banked, one-mile oval.

Larson, who earned his fifth career pole, said he had a plan going into qualifying.

“I planned on kind of moving up the race track each round,” he said. “The first round caught me off guard. I was really loose getting in (the turns), but they made adjustments on my Chevy the next two rounds.

“The second round I was probably a little too tight and we kind of found a happy medium there before the final round so I’m happy about that.”

Larson added, “We always qualify good here and we had yet to get a pole and we race well here and have yet to get a win, so we want to get them both out of the way this weekend. Now we just have to execute and tweak on our stuff a little better to keep up and hopefully we can start getting some wins.”

Kevin Harvick, who has one victory at Dover, will start Sunday’s race on the outside of the front row after posting a lap of 157.494 mph and will be followed by two-time Dover winner Martin Truex Jr., three-time winner Kyle Busch and Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

Jimmie Johnson, an 11-time Dover winner and perennial favorite, will start 19th Sunday.

Though Harvick wasn’t quite fast enough to earn the pole, he was still happy with his qualifying lap.

“This has become a really good race track for us and I know every time we come here everybody expects to race good and qualify well,” Harvick said. “We qualified OK and qualifying the way we did (Friday) will definitely help get your day started (on Sunday) and it allows you to start a little farther up and gives you a little bit of a cushion.”

Starting up front is always important at Dover, as 13 of the 95 (13.7 percent) Cup Series races at Dover have been won from the pole.

Ironically, second place is historically the most proficient starting position in the field, producing more winners (17) than any other position at Dover, a track were 57 percent of all Cup Series winners have started among the top five.

Larson is just happy he’ll have a clear view out of his windshield when the green flag waves on Sunday. He became the 41st different driver to win a Cup Series pole at Dover.

It’s right where he wants to be, especially after losing a race to Jimmie Johnson in the closing laps of last spring’s race at Dover.

Larson was in position to go to victory lane for the first time at Dover last spring, leading the race by a wide margin over second-place Johnson.

However, a caution flag waved with four laps to go, which put Larson in the position of having to fend off the field, including seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Johnson, on the final restart.

Larson was unable to clear the charging Johnson on the final restart and he lost the lead.

“We’ve been close to winning a couple of races here,” Larson said. “Restarts on the front row is something where we’ve always struggled.

“I feel like each time I’ve lost that I’ve learned from it and try to get better. I don’t know if I’m in that same position on Sunday if I’ll win or not, but I’ll definitely be better.”

Harvick said the focus will change during this morning’s two Monster Energy Series practice sessions.

“It’s a very intense race track and very fast and you’ve got to really be charging really hard to make time on every lap here,” said Harvick. “It’s a fun place to drive but (today) it comes to trying to make those consistent laps and be able to drive it for a long time.”

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