Defending Pocono winner Ryan Blaney captures pole

By Kyle Magda - For Times Leader
Ryan Blaney drives down the front stretch during qualifying for Sunday’s NASCAR Cup Series Pocono 400 on Friday in Long Pond, Pa. Blaney won the pole. - Derik Hamilton | AP Photo
Kevin Harvick prepares for a practice session for Sunday’s NASCAR Cup Series Pocono 400 on Friday in Long Pond, Pa. - Derik Hamilton | AP Photo
Kyle Busch prepares for a practice session for Sunday’s NASCAR Cup Series Pocono 400 on Friday in Long Pond, Pa. - Derik Hamilton | AP Photo

LONG POND – Ryan Blaney saved his best for last in Friday’s Monster Energy NASCAR Cup qualifying session at Pocono Raceway.

Blaney drove around the 2.5-mile Pocono Raceway in 50.877 seconds (176.897 mph) for his second pole of the 2018 season. The 24-year-old driver, whose lone series win came at Pocono last year, knocked off Kevin Harvick in the final round to grab the top spot.

“I didn’t get the speed to contend with Kevin the first two rounds,” Blaney said. “He was a solid tenth, tenth-and-a-half quicker than us and we made really good changes on our race car for the last round and I didn’t hit a very good Turn 1 both two laps.”

“Finally, we figured something out to where I could get through there a little bit better. They just did a great job of changing the car with what they had to work with to make it happen. We had speed all along, we just needed to hit a clean lap and that was pretty good.”

Harvick was fastest in the first two rounds of qualifying before being bested by Blaney in round three. The Stewart-Haas Racing driver finished runner-up in both Pocono races last year and has yet to win a Cup race at the Tricky Triangle.

“I slipped a little bit getting into [Turn] 3,” Harvick said about his qualifying run. “The car just started to slide on entry and I didn’t want to move the wheel any further. We picked up speed every round and that’s usually our goal and I said that before qualifying is to pick a pace and try to run that pace and better that pace a little bit better each round.

“It was a good qualifying run for us and we’re in the front. That’s where you want to be here.”

Ford drivers swept the front row for Sunday’s Pocono 400 with Jamie McMurray leading the Chevrolet camp in third (176.626 mph), followed by former Pocono pole-sitter Martin Truex Jr. in fourth (176.516 mph) in a Toyota.

Last July’s Pocono winner Kyle Busch completed the top-five in his No. 18 Red, White and Blue M&M’s Toyota. Busch led the only practice session Friday morning.

Kyle Larson just barely missed the final round of qualifying in 13th after making a last-ditch effort advancing from 22nd in the final moments of round two.

“Just lost a ton of time in (Turn) 1,” Larson said. “The second time I went out I was pretty good. Austin (Dillon) I didn’t know he was 12th, but he kind of held his car out in the Tunnel (Turn) and I over-slowed not really knowing where he was going to go and that cost me a little bit of time, probably enough to make the final round, but I put myself in that spot, so a little upset at myself.”

All 38 cars entered will compete in Sunday’s race. Derrike Cope in a second Starcom racing car completes the field.

Next up for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series at Pocono Raceway is final practice at 11:30 a.m. Saturday for last adjustments before the Pocono 400.

Burton wins Pocono ARCA 200

Second-generation driver Harrison Burton pulled away from Sheldon Creed with eight laps to go to win Friday’s ARCA General Tire #AnywhereIsPossible 200.

Burton slowly climbed towards the front from his 12th starting position to be in contention just past lap 50 of the 80-lap event.

“We come here to win and I know it’s my first superspeedway race, but doesn’t matter to us,” Burton said. “I got the best team behind me and it makes my job a whole lot easier.”

He dedicated the victory to former racer John Andretti, whose cancer returned and spread this week.

Harrison’s dad, Jeff, never won at Pocono Raceway, but the younger Burton won in his first-ever start at the Tricky Triangle.

Ryan Blaney drives down the front stretch during qualifying for Sunday’s NASCAR Cup Series Pocono 400 on Friday in Long Pond, Pa. Blaney won the pole.
https://www.timesleader.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/06/web1_AP18152785885654.jpgRyan Blaney drives down the front stretch during qualifying for Sunday’s NASCAR Cup Series Pocono 400 on Friday in Long Pond, Pa. Blaney won the pole. Derik Hamilton | AP Photo

Kevin Harvick prepares for a practice session for Sunday’s NASCAR Cup Series Pocono 400 on Friday in Long Pond, Pa.
https://www.timesleader.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/06/web1_AP18152646355868.jpgKevin Harvick prepares for a practice session for Sunday’s NASCAR Cup Series Pocono 400 on Friday in Long Pond, Pa. Derik Hamilton | AP Photo

Kyle Busch prepares for a practice session for Sunday’s NASCAR Cup Series Pocono 400 on Friday in Long Pond, Pa.
https://www.timesleader.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/06/web1_AP18152649077267.jpgKyle Busch prepares for a practice session for Sunday’s NASCAR Cup Series Pocono 400 on Friday in Long Pond, Pa. Derik Hamilton | AP Photo

By Kyle Magda

For Times Leader