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.

Neuville wins Rally Australia; Ogier takes FIA WRC title

Sebastien Ogier. Photo: Getty Images
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COFFS HARBOUR, Australia (AP) Belgium’s Thierry Neuville won Rally Australia by 22.5 seconds on Sunday as torrential rain added drama to the last day of the last race of the World Rally Championship season.

Neuville entered the final day with an almost 20 second advantage after inheriting the rally lead Saturday when his Hyundai teammate, defending champion Andreas Mikkelsen crashed and was forced to retire for the day.

His lead was halved by Jari-Matti Latvala early Sunday as monsoon-like rain made conditions treacherous on muddy forest stages on the New South Wales coast. The rain stopped on the short Wedding Bells stage where Neuville was almost 5 seconds quicker than his rivals, stretching his lead to 14.7 seconds entering the last stage.

COFFS HARBOUR, AUSTRALIA – NOVEMBER 17: Thierry Neuville of Belgium and Nicolas Gilsoul of Belgium compete in their Hyundai Motorsport WRT Hyundai i20 coupe WRC during Day One of the WRC Australia on November 17, 2017 in COFFS HARBOUR, Australia. (Photo by Massimo Bettiol/Getty Images)

That stage was full of incident. The driver’s door on Neuville’s Hyundai i20 coupe swung open in the middle of the stage and Neuville had to slam it closed as he approached a corner.

Latvala’s Toyota then crashed seconds from the end of the stage, allowing Estonia’s Ott Tanak, in a Ford, to take second place overall and New Zealalnd’s Haydon Paddon, in a Hyundai, to sneak into third.

Sebastian Ogier was fourth after winning the final, power stage but the Frenchman had already clinched his fifth world title before Rally Australia began. Neuville’s win was his fourth of the season, two more than Ogier, and was enough to give him second place in world drivers’ standings for the third time in five years.

Ogier owed his drivers’ title to his consistency: he retired only once and finished no worse than fifth all season.

Neuville admitted the last day was touch and go as the rain made some stages perilous, forcing the cancellation of the second to last stage.

“That was a hell of a ride,” Neuville said. “Really, really tricky conditions.

“I kept the car on the road but it was close sometimes. I knew I could make a difference but I had to be clever. You lose grip, you lose control and the car doesn’t respond to your input.”