You couldn’t script a better beginning to Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup for Brad Keselowski, who showed no sign of stopping his relentless run toward a second championship on Friday at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
Fresh from a dramatic victory in last Sunday’s first Chase race at Chicagoland Speedway, Keselowski blew away the track record in winning the pole for Sunday’s Sylvania 300 at the Magic Mile (2 p.m. ET on ESPN). The Coors Light pole award was Keselowski’s fifth of the season, the eight of his career and his third in 11 starts at the 1.058-mile flat track.
In the second and final round of knockout qualifying, Keselowski covered the distance in 27.090 seconds (140.598 mph) to edge Jamie McMurray (140.437 mph) for the top starting spot by .031 seconds. Kevin Harvick qualified third for the second Chase race at 140.065 mph.
“The kind of track is kind of right in my wheelhouse, right in our team’s wheelhouse,” said Keselowski, who won the July race at New Hampshire in dominating fashion. “We had this race circled before the Chase started, and we felt decent about Chicago, but we really felt like this was a race of emphasis for us to get a win and get out of the first bracket (three-race elimination round).
“It’s good, right? We just want to keep it going.”
Despite the excellent performances of the first two weeks, Keselowski isn’t ready to claim ownership of the title just yet.
“With the resets (after each round), the success of today really means nothing come Homestead (where the four remaining eligible drivers will race for the title, with the highest finisher among the four claiming the prize),” Keselowski said. “It’s great. It’s positive momentum. It’s everything you want to do, and it’s everything you think you should do.
“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 way from using the word favorite or feeling overly confident.”
McMurray, who did not make the Chase field, was pleased with his effort in qualifying.
“I felt like, in my first run, I didn’t get everything out of the car and maybe left a little bit on the table,” McMurray said. “The first run I didn’t think I got it all, but the second run out (in the final round), the second lap was really good.
“Honestly, I came off Turn 4 and tried to run three laps and tried to just drive a little bit harder, but the tires just wouldn’t hold up for another quick lap.”
Chase drivers who will start in the top 12 on Sunday include Denny Hamlin (fourth), Kyle Busch (fifth), Jimmie Johnson (sixth), Joey Logano (seventh), Carl Edwards (eighth), Ryan Newman (ninth) and Dale Earnhardt Jr. (11th)
Keselowski led the first of the two qualifying sessions with a lap at 139.614 mph (27.281 seconds), a scant .005 seconds faster than the No. 99 of fellow Ford driver Edwards.
All told, 26 drivers in the 30-minute first round broke the track qualifying record of 138.130 mph (27.574 seconds) set by Kyle Busch on July 11, 2014. Earnhardt Jr. was the 12th and last driver to advance to the second session with a lap at 138.987 mph (27.404 mph).
Chase drivers Jeff Gordon (13th), Kurt Busch (15th), Matt Kenseth (16th), Kasey Kahne (17th), Aric Almirola (21st), Greg Biffle (26th) and AJ Allmendinger (27th) failed to advance to the 10-minute final round.
Notes: The track qualifying record was the 19th set this year in Sprint Cup Series time trials, in the first year of the knockout format. ... Keselowski has accounted for four of those records. ... The last two times Keselowski has won a pole for a Sprint Cup race (at Kentucky and Richmond), he has also won the race.