DOVER — NASCAR Sprint Cup drivers knew they weren’t just battling each other Friday morning.
They were also dueling Mother Nature.
In the end, Mother Nature won.
With rain washing out Friday afternoon’s qualifying for the AAA 400 Drive for Autism, the morning’s practice session became all important at Dover International Speedway.
The field was set according to practice times with Kevin Harvick earning the pole for Sunday’s Sprint Cup event and Dale Earnhardt, Jr. starting second.
Of course, all the race teams knew the forecast for Friday. Most of them went out in qualifying trim, not practice trim.
“Yeah, I think that definitely changes the approach,” said Harvick. “That was what the forecast looked like all week and we just decided to come in qualifying trim. Rodney (Childers, crew chief) and those guys made that decision pretty early — I would say about mid-week to practice that way.”
“I figured that they looked at the weather,” Earnhardt, Jr. agreed. “We weren’t even sure we were going to get all of practice in. Everybody in the field was going to make sure to get a good hard lap down if they could.”
Practice was shortened when Danica Patrick had a mechanical problem that started a three-car wreck just a few minutes into the session. It took several minutes to get the track cleaned from the fluid that spilled on it.
The rain then wiped out qualifying for the Camping World Truck Series race, which was slated for earlier Friday afternoon.
Harvick is the Sprint Cup points leader coming into the weekend. He has a four-point lead over Kyle Busch, who will start third on Sunday.
Harvick also comes in having one last year’s fall race at Dover.
“We have had a little bit of bad luck in the first couple of times we have been here, but obviously it all came together the last time in the fall,” said Harvick. “The car was really fast when we unloaded for practice. Having that first pit stall definitely helps here. I’m looking forward to just the challenge of this particular race track, running every lap is hard.”
Earnhardt, Jr. is ninth in the points standings. He’s still looking for his first Sprint Cup win at Dover since 2001.
“The car was not real close when we came off the trailer,” said Junior. “But they made some great adjustments and got some good speed out of it, got it real comfortable. I like this track. It is challenging to run the way you want to run every lap, lap after lap, and that is a fun challenge.”