Team Penske once again dominated Sprint Cup qualifying Friday, taking the top two spots for Saturday night’s Quaker State 400 race at Kentucky Speedway.
Brad Keselowski, who won there in 2012, earned the pole with a track record speed of 188.791 mph, more than 1.5 mph faster than teammate Joey Logano, who qualified No. 2 (187.175 mph).
“We’re glad we got the run in,” Keselowski told Fox Sports 1. “The Miller Lite Ford Fusion has just been real good this weekend, Paul (crew chief Paul Wolfe) did a great job with the adjustments and I’m just real proud of this effort.”
Keselowski didn’t just break, he obliterated Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s old track record of 183.636 mph – set last year – by more than five mph.
This is Keselowski’s third pole of the season and only the sixth of his career. This also marks the fourth time Keselowski has qualified for the front row on five different 1.5-mile tracks this season, but is the first time he’s earned the pole (he was on the outside pole in the other four races).
Logano appeared as if he’d earn the pole, but Keselowski’s late run in the final round was more than just stout.
“That’s a really good lap right there,” Logano said. “It says a lot about Team Penske. … It’s frustrating at the same time, we won the first two segments. Brad had a lot of speed in practice, and we kind of wondered where it went in the first couple rounds of qualifying, and then he figured it out again, obviously. We still have a good start, a good pit stall and can’t wait for tomorrow night.”
Earlier in the afternoon, Keselowski also qualified No. 1 for Friday night’s Nationwide Series race.
Jeff Gordon qualified third (186.832), followed by Denny Hamlin (186.374), Kevin Harvick (186.104), Kyle Larson (186.034), Ryan Newman (186.014), Jamie McMurray (185.957), Kurt Busch (185.950), Danica Patrick was 10th (185.803), Clint Bowyer (185.414) and Paul Menard rounded out the top 12 (185.026).
Teams barely dodged a rainstorm at the start of the three-session knockout qualifying session, but all 42 cars entered were able to make runs.
“I’m just thankful it didn’t rain and we got all three runs in,” Keselowski said. “If you looked at the radar before qualifying, there was no way it wasn’t going to rain. … There was a huge rainstorm coming at the racetrack and then it stopped.”
Among highlights (and where appropriate, lowlights) of the three qualifying rounds:
* 25 drivers broke Earnhardt’s old track record in just the first session.
* Defending race winner Matt Kenseth failed to get out of the second round of knockout qualifying. He’ll start Saturday’s race 14th, alongside Tony Stewart in Row 7.
* Of note in the first round, Danica Patrick recorded the fifth-fastest speed at 185.899.
* Two of the biggest surprises in the overall session were the qualifying efforts of Hendrick Motorsports teammates Jimmie Johnson and Dale Earnhardt Jr.
In a phrase: not so good.
Johnson qualified 25th and failed to transfer to the second round.
“We didn’t get the lap we needed out there and didn’t transfer, but I feel actually decent about our car in race trim,” Johnson told Fox Sports 1. “We just couldn’t get out of our own way in the interim.”
Earnhardt, meanwhile, will start 29th.
“We were slow in practice, have been fighting the car all day and haven’t had any gains, haven’t really been able to figure out what we need to do,” Earnhardt said. “We just had a real rough go of it.
“The car is just way too rough, way too much movement and it’s hard to control it that way. It doesn’t take a scientist to figure out that this front straightaway is pretty mean. … It’s something else. I ain’t never seen anything like it.”
* This will mark the first time since Nov. 2001 that a Sprint Cup race has not had a full 43-car field. Only 42 drivers/cars entered and qualified for Saturday night’s race.
Here’s the starting lineup for Saturday’s Quaker State 400 NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Kentucky Speedway:
Row 1 Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano
Row 2 Jeff Gordon, Denny Hamlin
Row 3 Kevin Harvick, Kyle Larson
Row 4 Ryan Newman, Jamie McMurray
Row 5 Kurt Busch, Danica Patrick
Row 6 Clint Bowyer, Paul Menard
Row 7 Tony Stewart, Matt Kenseth
Row 8 AJ Allmendinger, Austin Dillon
Row 9 Brian Vickers, Kyle Busch
Row 10 Martin Truex Jr., Kasey Kahne
Row 11 Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Aric Almirola
Row 12 Carl Edwards, Greg Biffle
Row 13 Jimmie Johnson, Casey Mears
Row 14 Justin Allgaier, Cole Whitt
Row 15 Dale Earnhardt Jr., Reed Sorenson
Row 16 Michael Annett, Alex Bowman
Row 17 Josh Wise, Marcos Ambrose
Row 18 Travis Kvapil, David Ragan
Row 19 Landon Cassill, David Stremme
Row 20 Ryan Truex, Joe Nemechek
Row 21 David Gilliland, Mike Bliss
* Note: Only 42 cars/drivers entered this race.
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