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.

Michael Andretti looking forward to new Australian Supercars venture

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If it seems like Michael Andretti is out to conquer the world, he is – kind of.

The former IndyCar star turned prolific team owner has won three of the last four Indianapolis 500s and five overall, second only to Roger Penske’s 16 Indy 500 triumphs.

Along the way, in addition to expanding his own IndyCar and Indy Lights operation, the son of Mario Andretti and the primary shareholder of Andretti Autosport has also branched out into Global RallyCross and Formula E racing in recent years.

And now, Andretti has further expanded his brand internationally, following Penske to the world down under — as in the world of Australian V8 Supercars.

Andretti has teamed with Supercars team owner Ryan Walkinshaw, along with veteran motorsports marketer and executive director of McLaren Technology Group and United Autosports owner and chairman, Zak Brown.

Together, the three have formed Walkinshaw Andretti United, based in suburban Melbourne, Australia. The new team kicks off the new season with the Adelaide 500 from March 1-4.

“It’s just extending our brand and putting it out there,” Andretti told NBC Sports. “The Supercars are such a great series.

“It all started with Zach Brown calling me and said ‘You have to talk to Ryan Walkinshaw. He’s got something interesting to talk to you about.’

“We talked and literally in like a half-hour, we said, ‘Let’s figure out how we’re going to make this work.’ And then Zack was like, ‘Hey, what about me?’ And then Zack came in as a partner and it’s cool now that we have the Walkinshaw Andretti United team.

“I’m really excited about that program, the guys at the shop are excited about it, we’ve been doing a lot of things to try and help it because it’s such a cool series and the cars are so cool.

“I went down there to Bathurst, which was to me one of the coolest tracks in the world. I wish I could have driven it, I really do. It looks like a blast.

“It’s amazing how big that series is when you go down there. It’s one of the biggest sports in Australia. It was just a great opportunity for us to extend our portfolio.”

Admittedly, Andretti had some extra incentive to want to get involved in the Supercars world: Penske joined forces with legendary Dick Johnson Racing in September 2014.

The organization came together quickly and the rebranded DJR Team Penske went on to win the 2017 V8 Supercars championship.

“Roger was down there the last few years,” Andretti said, adding that fact as incentive to get his own organization into the series. “So it’s cool to go race head-to-head with Roger. That was also in the back of our minds.”

This is no start-up venture for Andretti. The roots of the new venture began in 1990 as the Holden Racing Team, which went on to become one of the most successful organizations in Australian V8 Supercar racing, having won the drivers’ championship six times and the Virgin Australia Supercars Championship’s top race, the Bathurst 1000 (essentially Australia’s version of the Indy 500), seven times.

Last season, Holden Racing team morphed into Triple Eight Race Engineering and was renamed Mobil 1 HSV Racing.

And now the company has been renamed once again for the 2018 campaign under the Walkinshaw Andretti United banner.

The team will be composed of two Holden ZB Commodores with drivers James Courtney and Scott Pye, as well as a Porsche 911 GT3-R in the Australian GT championship.

What’s next for Andretti’s motorsports portfolio? Right now, it’s pretty full, but you can bet running for championships from Australia (Supercars) to globally (GRC) to Indianapolis (Indy 500) to the U.S. (Verizon IndyCar Series) are at the top of this year’s list.