RICHMOND, Va.—Another qualifying round and another front-row starting spot for Brad Keselowski and Team Penske.
Keselowski sped around the .75-mile Richmond International Raceway in 21.234 seconds (126.351 mph) in Friday afternoon’s time trials to win the Coors Light pole for Saturday night’s Federated Auto Parts 400 (7:30 p.m. ET on ABC), the 26th and final regular-season race of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season.
The driver of the No. 2 Ford won his fourth pole of 2014, his first at Richmond and the seventh of his career. In Saturday’s race, which will complete the field for the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup, Keselowski will start on the front row for the 11th time this season.
Jeff Gordon qualified second at 126.039 mph despite failing to nail Turns 1 and 2 in either of the knockout qualifying rounds. Six-time series champion Jimmie Johnson (125.898 mph) claimed the third spot on the grid, followed by Kevin Harvick (125.857 mph) and Joey Logano (125.663 mph).
Four drivers not yet qualified for the Chase earned starting spots in the top 12: Clint Bowyer (sixth), Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (seventh), Kyle Larson (eighth) and Ryan Newman (12th). Newman needs a finish of 18th or better (19th if he leads a lap and 20th if he leads most laps) to clinch a berth in NASCAR’s 10-race postseason, which kicks off Sept. 14 at Chicagoland Speedway (2 p.m. ET on ESPN).
Keselowski would like nothing better than to break the current five-way tie for top seeding in the Chase. Keselowski, Gordon, Johnson, Logano and Dale Earnhardt Jr. have three victories each this season through 25 races.
“This is by far the best car I’ve had (at Richmond),” said Keselowski, the 2012 series champion. “I think we’ve got a really strong shot of winning this weekend, so I’m very, very excited—-everybody says they’re excited, but when you sit on the pole, and you’re fast in practice, you’ve got a real reason to be excited.
“I’d really like to get that fourth win. We’ve got three wins, and that’s a great start to the season, but I’m still very, very hungry.”
Drivers had to adapt to a new Goodyear tire at Richmond this year, and Gordon said he was baffled both by the race track and by the quality of his own performance during qualifying.
“I’ve been confused most of the day, even in qualifying,” Gordon said. “I mean I was sliding up the race track, running a groove I didn’t really want to be running, and yet we were fastest in the first round and second fastest in the second round.
“I’m sitting here baffled by it, but it just tells me we’ve got a really good race car that’s got good speed in it, and we’ve just got to get that balance right and keep working hard… Brad put a great lap up there. It was just incredible what he did that second round.”
Note: Clay Rogers failed to make the 43-car field.