Kenseth responds with Richmond Cup pole

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Two days after his team was heavily penalized by NASCAR after its race-winning engine from Kansas failed inspection, Matt Kenseth set a new Richmond International Raceway track record and claimed pole for Saturday night’s Toyota Owners 400 on the 3/4-mile bullring.

Kenseth’s lap at 130.334 mph was enough to out-hustle Brian Vickers (subbing for the injured Denny Hamlin), Jeff Gordon, Kasey Kahne and Clint Bowyer for P1. In an odd turn of events, Kenseth’s pole will put him in the running for the 2014 Sprint Unlimited exhibition at Daytona; he lost the Unlimited spot that he earned with his Kansas pole last weekend as part of the penalties that went against him and his No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing team this week.

“I’ve said it a million times, but this is just a really special group, and I’m a really lucky guy to be driving [this car],” Kenseth told SPEED Channel afterwards. “Really proud of these guys. After practice, I didn’t think we had a prayer of sitting on the pole, and one of my goals this week with everything going on was to go sit on the pole and maybe that would quiet things down a little bit…

“It always feels good when you can go out and win a pole, or even win a race, so the important thing tomorrow night is figuring out how to get this thing out front and be there at the last lap when it really counts. But yeah, the pole feels really good for all of us today.”

Kenseth was penalized 50 driver points and lost his bonus points for the victory in Kansas, while crew chief Jason Ratcliff was fined $200,000 and suspended for six races. Team owner Joe Gibbs lost 50 car owner points and had his owner’s license suspended for six weeks, which means he can’t gain points toward the owner’s championship in that period. Toyota also lost five points toward the manufacturer’s championship.

Juan Pablo Montoya, Joey Logano, Kyle Busch, Martin Truex Jr., and Mark Martin will round out the Top 10 on the grid for tomorrow night’s 400-lap event. Dale Earnhardt Jr. will go off from 19th, defending Sprint Cup champion Brad Keselowski from 23rd, current points leader Jimmie Johnson from 27th, and Danica Patrick from 30th.

NHRA: Brittany Force cleared to race this weekend in Phoenix after bad wreck 2 weeks ago

Photo: John Force Racing
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Drag racing is a Force family tradition. So, too, is not keeping a Force family member down.

Just 12 days after the most serious wreck of her six-year drag racing career, Brittany Force and John Force Racing announced late Thursday afternoon that the defending 2017 NHRA Top Fuel champion has been medically cleared and will indeed race in this weekend’s NHRA Arizona Nationals at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park in suburban Phoenix, Arizona.

“I flew into Phoenix early this (Thursday) morning and headed straight out to the race track to meet up with my team,” Force said. “I suited up and got belted back into my car that I ran all last season.

“It honestly felt good to be strapped back in and I was surprised how comfortable I was. I’m looking forward to getting back in my car tomorrow (Friday’s first two rounds of qualifying) and getting back in the swing of things with my guys.”

The 31-year-old Force, one of four daughters of 16-time NHRA Funny Car champ John Force, suffered a concussion and bruising after the hard crash she was involved in on February 11 in the first round of eliminations of the season-opening NHRA Lucas Oil Winternationals in Pomona, California.

Shortly after leaving the starting line in a race vs. Terry Haddock, Force’s dragster crossed from the right to left lanes, impacted the retaining wall with a very hard lateral crash, bounced off, spun, went on its side and briefly caught fire after crossing the finish line wheels-up.

While she is still recovering from the bruising, Force feels strong enough to get back behind the wheel. Getting back in the race car could be the best medicine of all, since she has three runner-up finishes in Phoenix, including back-to-back second-place showings in both the 2016 and 2017 national events.

The three-day event kicks off Friday with qualifying rounds at 4 and 6:30 p.m. ET, the same times as Saturday’s qualifying. Final eliminations begin at 1 p.m. ET Sunday.