LOUDON, N.H. (AP) — Brad Keselowski will start the second race in the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship the way he ended the first one — out front.
Keselowski turned a track-record lap of 140.598 mph Friday to win the pole at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
Keselowski is coming off consecutive victories at Richmond and the Chase for the Sprint Cup opener last week at Chicagoland. He swept the Cup and Nationwide races at New Hampshire in July.
The Team Penske driver has five poles this season and leads the series with five victories. He has eight poles in 189 career Sprint Cup starts.
“This kind of track is kind of right in my wheelhouse, right in our team’s wheelhouse,” Keselowski said. “We had this race circled before the Chase started and we felt decent about Chicago, but really felt like this was a race of emphasis for us to get a win and get out of the first bracket.”
Jamie McMurray, a non-Chase driver, was second. Chase drivers took the next seven spots. Kevin Harvick was third, followed by Denny Hamlin, Kyle Busch, Jimmie Johnson, Joey Logano, Carl Edwards and Ryan Newman.
Chase drivers Ryan Newman, Dale Earnhardt Jr and Jeff Gordon took 11th to 13th. Kurt Busch is 15th, Matt Kenseth 16th and Kasey Kahne 17th. Aric Almirol starts 22nd and Greg Biffle had the worst qualifying effort of any Chase driver and will start 26th.
Tony Stewart will start 28th in the No. 14 Chevrolet, his second-worst qualifying run of the season. Stewart was in the car for the first time since he learned a grand jury will decide his fate in the fatal sprint car crash in upstate New York.
Kyle Larson was 10th and was the fastest qualifying rookie.
“I don’t think anybody has anything for Brad right now,” Larson said. “It’s pretty amazing how fast he is everywhere we go.”
Larson finished third at Chicagoland and one of NASCAR’s top rookies still believed he could finish the season with his first career Sprint Cup win.
Many of NASCAR’s elite drivers, from Jeff Gordon to Tony Stewart, have long been wowed by the natural speed, talent and versatility flashed by the 22-year-old Larson. Gordon even came over to Larson last week moment after the race ended to offer some advice on restarts.
Gordon — and so many others — believe Larson will win soon.
“Yeah, every race I will sit in the motorhome and watch TV and flip to Twitter. Everybody always says this is your weekend,” Larson said. “I believe them, but it kind of sucks when you don’t win. But I definitely feel like we are really close. We have been close a couple of times this year.”
Keselowski is trying to become the first driver to repeat at New Hampshire since Kurt Busch in 2004 and would end a streak of 13 different winners in the last 13 races at NHMS. Keselowski has four (Phoenix, Dover, Kentucky) of the 19 track records set this season.
Keselowski’s win in the Chase opener guaranteed him a spot in the next round of the Chase. Under NASCAR’s elimination format, four drivers will be knocked out after every third race. Keselowski is the top seed in the 16-driver field.
Keselowski might be the No. 1 seed, but he knows an upset can always rattle the bracket.
“It’s positive momentum,” he said, “but when it resets it resets and nothing that you’ve done in the past really matters as long as you’re eligible for the bracket. I’m a long, long ways from using the word favorite or feeling overly confident.”
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