LOUDON, N.H. – Brad Keselowski is back on top of NASCAR.
Well, for a race, at least.
But he’s quickly running out of time to make it back to the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship and defend his series championship.
His first pole of the season might give his season the boost he needs to become a contender. Keselowski turned a lap of 135.922 mph on Friday to set a track record at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
Keselowski won only his third career pole and first since 2011. With eight races left until the 12-driver Chase field is set, Keselowski is winless and sitting in an uncomfortable 13th place in the points standings.
There is a sense of urgency but not a sense of panic, Keselowski said. I think there is a strong difference between the two. We are eager to get going, we are hungry and feel like we can do it, but I don’t feel a sense of panic.
Keselowski led a fast day at the track as nine drivers topped the previous track record held by Ryan Newman, who went 135.232 in 2011. Ten drivers topped that lap until points leader Jimmie Johnson’s second-fastest qualifying time was scrapped after his car failed inspection. His No. 48 Chevrolet, which had two issues in the pre-qualifying inspection, failed after his attempt because both sides of the front were too low. He’ll start in the rear in 43rd.
We were able to get the car right, crew chief Chad Knaus said. just not exactly right.
Johnson will actually start behind 71-year-old Morgan Shepherd. Shepherd will become the oldest driver to start a NASCAR Sprint Cup race.
Shepherd, who went only 128.290 in qualifying, made his Cup debut in 1970 and won four times in NASCAR’s top series. He finished as high as fifth in the final standings in 1990 and hasn’t started a race since 2006.
Kurt Busch will now join Keselowski on the front row. Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kyle Busch and Gordon round out the top five. Carl Edwards, Denny Hamlin, Kasey Kahne, and Jeff Burton all topped Newman’s record.