Brad Keselowski breaks pole drought with strong run at Magic Mile

LOUDON, NEW HAMPSHIRE - JULY 19: Brad Keselowski, driver of the #2 Alliance Truck Parts Ford, celebrates with the Pole Award qualifying for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Foxwoods Resort Casino 301 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway on July 19, 2019 in Loudon, New Hampshire. (Photo by Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images)

Starved for a pole position for nearly two years, Brad Keselowski put a decisive end to the qualifying drought on Friday at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, edging Kyle Busch for the top starting spot in Sunday’s Foxwoods Resort Casino 301 (3 p.m. ET on NBCSN, PRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).

Fastest on the first of his two laps in time trials, Keselowski beat Busch by .015 seconds, covering the one-mile distance in 27.927 seconds (136.384 mph). Busch clocked in at 136.311 mph.

The Busch Pole Award was Keselowski’s fourth at the Magic Mile and his first here since the driver of the No. 2 Team Penske Ford set the track qualifying record in 2014 (20.090 seconds at 140.598 mph). After 11 of his 14 previous career pole runs, Keselowski has finished in the top 10, including two victories. His only victory at Loudon, however, came from the seventh starting position (2014).

“This definitely surprised me,” said Keselowski, who last won a pole in the August race at Michigan in 2017. “It’s been a while since we’ve had a pole. We’ve had really good cars but haven’t been able to make the most of it with the driver in qualifying, so it’s nice to get one here in Loudon.”

Track position aside, the primary benefit of winning the pole at New Hampshire may well be the selection of pit stall No. 1, closest to the exit from pit road.

“The first pit stall will be huge for sure,” Keselowski concurred. “This track on pit road has a lot of chaos. I’m not saying you can’t wreck in pit stall No. 1, but it’s a little harder there and it certainly makes life a lot easier for your pit crew. It’s like you’re in the HOV lane (on pit exit).”

Kurt Busch, last Sunday’s winner at Kentucky Speedway, qualified third at 136.238 mph. Erik Jones will start fourth, followed by Ryan Blaney, Martin Truex Jr., Matt DiBenedetto and two-time Loudon winner Joey Logano.

Jones matched his best effort in time trials this season, having also qualified fourth at both Bristol and Pocono. His No. 20 Toyota showed significant improvement over practice earlier in the day.

“It was kind of a struggle this morning, but actually there (in qualifying) it felt pretty good,” Jones said. “Definitely a lot better than what we had in practice. I missed it a little bit on the lap. It had some more in it. Just didn’t hit it right.

“The Stanley Camry felt good there, so I think that was the first time all day I’ve had a good feel in the car, and if we can kind of transfer that into (Saturday’s practice), that’d be a positive.”

Alex Bowman, who locked himself into the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs with a victory at Chicagoland Speedway, will start last after failing to complete a lap in time trials because of a broken drive shaft.

“There was a big boom and something broke,” said Bowman, who had begun his first lap before the part failure. “I don’t know. I haven’t looked at the car. Obviously, the drive shaft broke. I don’t know if the gears or the drive shaft went first. It took out a lot of stuff on the way out. There’s oil everywhere. Just part of it.

“I don’t like New Hampshire. I’ve always struggled here. I’m a selfish, biased race car driver, so places I struggle, I don’t like. It’s going to be hot, and certainly we have our work cut out for us starting from the back. But we’ll make it a good day.”

Denny Hamlin and Ryan Newman qualified 23rd and 26th, respectively, in backup cars after wrecking in practice.

Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Qualifying Results Foxwoods Resort Casino 301

New Hampshire Motor Speedway

Loudon, New Hampshire

Friday, July 19, 2019

1. (2) Brad Keselowski, Ford, 136.384 mph.

2. (18) Kyle Busch, Toyota, 136.311 mph.

3. (1) Kurt Busch, Chevrolet, 136.238 mph.

4. (20) Erik Jones, Toyota, 136.189 mph.

5. (12) Ryan Blaney, Ford, 136.116 mph.

6. (19) Martin Truex Jr, Toyota, 136.082 mph.

7. (95) Matt DiBenedetto, Toyota, 135.990 mph.

8. (22) Joey Logano, Ford, 135.893 mph.

9. (10) Aric Almirola, Ford, 135.883 mph.

10. (48) Jimmie Johnson, Chevrolet, 135.844 mph.

11. (17) Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Ford, 135.723 mph.

12. (9) Chase Elliott, Chevrolet, 135.709 mph.

13. (41) Daniel Suarez, Ford, 135.607 mph.

14. (4) Kevin Harvick, Ford, 135.496 mph.

15. (42) Kyle Larson, Chevrolet, 135.395 mph.

16. (14) Clint Bowyer, Ford, 135.236 mph.

17. (21) Paul Menard, Ford, 134.577 mph.

18. (13) Ty Dillon, Chevrolet, 134.572 mph.

19. (8) Daniel Hemric #, Chevrolet, 134.553 mph.

20. (38) David Ragan, Ford, 134.435 mph.

21. (3) Austin Dillon, Chevrolet, 134.269 mph.

22. (24) William Byron, Chevrolet, 134.113 mph.

23. (11) Denny Hamlin, Toyota, 133.962 mph.

24. (34) Michael McDowell, Ford, 133.938 mph.

25. (37) Chris Buescher, Chevrolet, 133.525 mph.

26. (6) Ryan Newman, Ford, 133.189 mph.

27. (43) Bubba Wallace, Chevrolet, 133.091 mph.

28. (47) Ryan Preece #, Chevrolet, 133.021 mph.

29. (32) Corey LaJoie, Ford, 132.919 mph.

30. (36) Matt Tifft #, Ford, 132.831 mph.

31. (00) Landon Cassill(i), Chevrolet, 132.030 mph.

32. (15) Ross Chastain(i), Chevrolet, 130.815 mph.

33. (27) Reed Sorenson, Chevrolet, 129.529 mph.

34. (77) Quin Houff, Chevrolet, 128.845 mph.

35. (51) Andy Seuss, Ford, 128.376 mph.

36. (52) Austin Theriault, Chevrolet, 123.366 mph.

37. (88) Alex Bowman, Chevrolet, 0.000 mph.

Greg Engle