(Photo: Todd Warshaw/Getty Images)

Brad Keselowski sets track speed record en route to earning Sprint Cup pole at Dover

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Brad Keselowski must have gotten tired having started on the outside pole so many times this season.

Enough was enough on Friday for Keselowski, who after sitting on the outside pole six times in the first 12 races of 2014, earned his second No. 1 qualifying position of the season for Sunday’s FedEx 400 Benefitting Autism Speaks at Dover International Speedway.

Keselowski, who is seeking his second Sprint Cup victory of the season, recorded a DIS track record qualifying lap of 164.444 mph. It was Keselowski’s fifth career Sprint Cup pole and the third for Team Penske in 2014.

“We had a great car today, all day,” Keselowski said. “I just wanted to get going.”

Joe Gibbs Racing’s Kyle Busch won the outside pole with a best lap of 163.785 mph.

“The 2 (Keselowski) and 22 (Joey Logano) always seem to go faster on their second runs, and we just got beat on speed there,” Busch said. “The car’s been real fast all weekend, we’re happy with it in race trim and everything, so I think we’ll be good for the race on Sunday.”

Qualifying third through 12th in the third and final session were: Keselowski’s Penske Racing teammate Joey Logano (163.688), Coca-Cola 600 winner Jimmie Johnson (163.362), Kyle Larson (163.080), Denny Hamlin (163.066), Jeff Gordon (163.066), Kevin Harvick (162.499), Brian Vickers (162.411), Clint Bowyer (162.243), AJ Allmendinger (162.155) and Greg Biffle (160.995).

Team Penske – either Keselowski or Logano – has now sat on the front row in either the No. 1 or No. 2 spots in knockout qualifying 10 times in the first 13 races this season (there was no knockout qualifying in the season-opening Daytona 500).

Because only 43 cars made qualifying attempts, there were no cars that failed to qualify.

Here’s how they’ll line up for Sunday’s FedEx400 Benefitting Autism Speaks at Dover International Speedway:

Row 1 Brad Keselowski, Kyle Busch

Row 2 Joey Logano, Jimmie Johnson

Row 3 Kyle Larson, Jeff Gordon

Row 4 Denny Hamlin, Kevin Harvick

Row 5 Brian Vickers, Clint Bowyer

Row 6 AJ Allmendinger, Greg Biffle

Row 7 Dale Earnhardt Jr., Ryan Newman

Row 8 Paul Menard, Martin Truex Jr.

Row 9 Kasey Kahne, Brett Moffitt

Row 10 Jamie McMurray, Tony Stewart

Row 11 Matt Kenseth, Casey Mears

Row 12 Austin Dillon, Kurt Busch

Row 13 Aric Almirola, Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

Row 14 Marcos Ambrose, Danica Patrick

Row 15 Carl Edwards, Justin Allgaier

Row 16 Cole Whitt, David Gilliland

Row 17 Josh Wise, David Ragan

Row 18 Alex Bowman, Landon Cassill

Row 19 JJ Yeley, Reed Sorenson

Row 20 Michael Annett, David Stremme

Row 21 Ryan Truex, Dave Blaney

Row 22 Blake Koch

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IndyCar 2015 Driver Review: Helio Castroneves

Helio Castroneves
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MotorSportsTalk continues its look through the 2015 Verizon IndyCar Series field with fifth-placed Helio Castroneves.

Helio Castroneves, No. 3 Team Penske Chevrolet

  • 2014: 2nd Place, 1 Win, 3 Poles, 6 Podiums, 7 Top-5, 10 Top-10, 282 Laps Led, 5.7 Avg. Start, 9.3 Avg. Finish
  • 2015: 5th Place, Best Finish 2nd, 4 Poles, 5 Podiums, 6 Top-5, 9 Top-10, 198 Laps Led, 4.9 Avg. Start, 9.3 Avg. Finish

Much as you’d write about his fellow countryman and longtime friend and rival Tony Kanaan, age hasn’t slowed Helio Castroneves, but it’s instead fueled continued success. And while Castroneves went winless for only the second time (2011) in his illustrious 16-year career with Team Penske, he wasn’t down on performance.

Now 40, Castroneves continued to have several shining moments in 2015, which was particularly important to do to stand out against defending champion Will Power, this year’s primary title contender Juan Pablo Montoya and new driver Simon Pagenaud.

Castroneves scored four pole positions and boasted a 4.9 averaging starting position, second in the field to Power, which was very impressive to note. His run of form from Texas through Milwaukee, capturing three podiums in four races, was his best race stretch this season. Additional highlights included back-to-back runner-up results in the NOLA lottery and then on pure pace at Long Beach.

The month of May must though be viewed as a disappointment. Castroneves played a role in the first corner mess at the Grand Prix of Indianapolis and got a points penalty (although the number was dropped) as a result. Then he endured another Indianapolis 500 where he was not the out-and-out fastest car in the Penske brigade. While Montoya and Power were dueling for the win and Pagenaud had speed to burn all month, Castroneves’ lone moment of note came with his accident in practice, which mercifully he emerged unscathed from.

As ever though, fifth in this field owed to his consistency and dogged determination to succeed. Castroneves has ended top-five in seven of the last eight seasons since the IRL/Champ Car merger in 2008 and if it wasn’t for Dixon’s top-three run hogging the headlines, we’d probably appreciate Castroneves even more so. As long as he’s continually competitive, he’s still worthy at Team Penske.

IndyCar 2015 Driver Review: Graham Rahal

Graham Rahal
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MotorSportsTalk continues its driver-by-driver review of the field in the 2015 Verizon IndyCar Series.

Next up is fourth-placed Graham Rahal, who had a career year.

Graham Rahal, No. 15 Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda

  • 2014: 19th Place, Best Finish 2nd, Best Start 4th, 1 Podium, 2 Top-5, 4 Top-10s, 28 Laps Led, 14.4 Avg. Start, 15.0 Avg. Finish
  • 2015: 4th Place, 2 Wins, Best Start 5th, 6 Podiums, 8 Top-5, 10 Top-10s, 76 Laps Led, 11.0 Avg Start, 8.5 Avg. Finish

Formula 1 fans will remember the miraculous, shock rise of Brawn GP, which didn’t even exist as a team until mere weeks before the 2009 Australian Grand Prix having risen from the demise of the former Honda factory team, and then promptly proceeded to stomp the field en route to winning both the Driver’s and Constructor’s World Championships that season.

It’s the best racing comparison in recent years – or perhaps any year – for what was done at Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing in 2015, courtesy of a career year from Graham Rahal, an instant chemistry renewal with the people father Bobby put in place, and the fact Bobby himself stepped back this year to allow his team’s key players to shine through.

Because quite simply, after finishes of 18th and 19th the last two seasons, no one in their right mind had Rahal winning races and contending for a championship this season.

It’s hard to say specifically which point was most important, because all played dividends. Bobby Rahal moved off the pit box, and actually missed a fair number of races this year, which allowed Graham and team manager Ricardo Nault to gel with Nault on the radio and pretty much running the team on the whole. Then there were the three key crewmember additions: Eddie Jones moving over to be lead engineer on the No. 15 car was clutch, as was Rahal getting the opportunity to reunite with Martin Pare and work for the first time with Mike Talbott. The addition of damper ace Stuart Kenworthy was not covered much this year, but undoubtedly a big help. Sponsor Steak ‘n Shake’s arrival also brought a wealth of attention.

And then there were the drives in the races themselves. Perhaps strangely, Rahal had a tough qualifying average – only 11th – but it was the best for a Honda driver this year. The strategy calls from RLL were damn near perfect all year and Rahal seized every opportunity at his disposal, be it his wins at Fontana and Mid-Ohio, his recovery at Iowa, and his numerous other podiums throughout the year. His charge to second at Barber stands out as one of the drives of the year.

Call Fontana lucky if you will, and he was fortunate to avoid a penalty for leaving with the fuel buckeye, but even so he still could have come back given where the race was at that point. And being on the receiving end of two ill-advised taps from Tristan Vautier and Sebastien Bourdais at Pocono and Sonoma, respectively, cost him huge results and huge points – the net effect of three races.

The single-car title charge was one of the stories of the year, even beyond Scott Dixon’s championship comeback and Juan Pablo Montoya’s consistent-until-Sonoma season. Rahal re-established his credentials on track if people had forgotten what he was capable of; additionally, he reaffirmed his status as one of racing’s best people with his work in the Justin Wilson memorial auction after that tragedy. It was truly a ’15 to remember for the driver of the No. 15 car.