Keselowski wins Loudon pole as Johnson gets DQ’ed

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The reigning Sprint Cup champion, Brad Keselowski, will lead the field to the green flag on Sunday at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, while the current championship leader, Jimmie Johnson, will have to rally from dead last on the grid.

Keselowski’s lap at 135.922 mph around the “Magic Mile” was enough to give him his first pole of the season, which could prove to be a critical boost for Sunday as he looks to stop a slide that has threatened his chances to make this year’s Chase.

“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,” said Keselowski, who has fallen to 13th in the standings. “There are still two months of racing essentially to get into the Chase. We have fast race cars and if we do our part, we don’t need any help. If we do our part, we don’t even need any luck. We just need to do our jobs and I feel like we have got the team to do just that.”

As for Johnson, he was slated to start on the outside of the front row. But in post-qualifying inspection, the front end of his No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet failed a height stick test on both sides, which were found to be too low.

As a result, his time was disallowed and the five-time Cup champ will have to start 43rd in the Camping World RV Sales 301.

Johnson also had problems going into the qualifying session, saying prior to NASCAR’s ruling that the car had to go through inspection twice because of issues involving the side skirt height and weight placement.

With Johnson knocked back to the rear of the field, Furniture Row Racing’s Kurt Busch will take over P2 on Sunday’s grid after posting a lap at 135.835 mph despite hitting the rev limiter at the start of his qualifying run.

“I was on the rev chip so early, I was like ‘We must be going that fast’ or we even dialed our rev chip back too far,” said Busch. “These guys are just incredible. The things that they are finding and the speed we are bolting on…We are doing okay if we can manage all this weirdness and still be fast.”

Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Kyle Busch will make up Row 2, followed by Jeff Gordon and Carl Edwards in Row 3. Denny Hamlin and defending race winner Kasey Kahne will go off from Row 4, and Jeff Burton and Juan Pablo Montoya will be in Row 5.

F1 Mexican Grand Prix on NBC, NBCSN, App this week

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Lewis Hamilton is poised to wrap his fourth Formula 1 World Championship early at this weekend’s Mexican Grand Prix, as NBC Sports covers the 18th of 20 rounds this season from the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez in Mexico City.

Expanded TV coverage comes this weekend on NBC, NBCSN and the NBC Sports App.

All sessions will air live. Both Friday practice sessions are live on NBCSN at 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. ET. Saturday third practice airs live via the NBC Sports App at 11 a.m. ET with a practice replay show at 12:30 p.m. before live qualifying at 2 p.m. ET, those two on NBCSN.

On Sunday, race day, F1 Countdown starts at 2:30 p.m. ET on NBC leading to lights out and the race at 3 p.m. ET. Post-race coverage continues on NBC for one hour, from 5 to 6 p.m. ET.

Mercedes AMG Petronas has won both Mexican Grands Prix since the race was reinstated in 2015 after a 23-year hiatus. Nico Rosberg won in 2015 a race after Hamilton had clinched that year’s title, while Hamilton won last year in a 1-2 with Rosberg continuing to close on his first title.

Controversy reined about third place in Mexico last year with all of Sebastian Vettel, Max Verstappen and ultimately Daniel Ricciardo ending in third, Ricciardo getting the podium after post-race penalties were assessed to the other two. Valtteri Bottas is the other active podium finisher in Mexico, having come third in 2015 with Williams.

Vettel enters Mexico 66 points behind Hamilton and can only keep the title alive to Brazil if he gets the gap under 50 points; any top-five finish for Hamilton will ensure the Englishman equals Vettel on four titles. So if Vettel doesn’t finish first or second, he can’t score enough points (either 25 or 18) to get that gap under 50 markers.

Last year’s race featured a bit of a “Noah’s Ark” finishing order with just the top five teams in the championship scoring points at this race, almost in descending order of just two-by-two. It was two Mercedes, then two Red Bulls, then two Ferraris, then Nico Hulkenberg’s Force India before the two Williams, and finally hometown hero Sergio Perez in the second Force India.

Perez is the lone home favorite this race with Esteban Gutierrez not on the grid this season.

Here’s the F1 schedule, with stream links and TV network if applicable:

  • Practice 1: Friday, Oct. 27, 11 a.m.-12:30 p.m. ET (NBCSN)
  • Practice 2: Friday, Oct. 27, 3 p.m.-4:30 p.m. ET (NBCSN)
  • Practice 3: Saturday, Oct. 28, 11 a.m.-12 p.m. ET (Streaming)
  • Practice 3 (Replay): Saturday, Oct. 28, 12:30 p.m.-2 p.m. ET (NBCSN)
  • Qualifying: Saturday, Oct. 28, 2 p.m.-3:45 p.m. ET (NBCSN)
  • Pre-Race: Sunday, Oct. 29, 2:30 p.m.-3 p.m. ET (NBC)
  • Race: Sunday, Oct. 29, 3 p.m.-5 p.m. ET (NBC)
  • Post-Race: Sunday, Oct. 29, 5 p.m.-6 p.m. ET (NBC)
  • Race (Replay): Sunday, Oct. 29, 8:30 p.m.-10:30 p.m. ET (NBCSN)

The next race is the Brazilian Grand Prix, on November 12.