Keselowski, Gordon on front row for Richmond Sprint Cup race

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For the 15th time this season, a Team Penske driver either will sit on the pole or on the outside pole, as Brad Keselowski earned the top qualifying spot in Friday’s qualifying session at Richmond International Raceway.

Keselowski covered the ¾-mile track with a top speed of 126.618 mph in preparation for Saturday’s Federated Auto Parts 400.

“The car is really fast, that’s what makes the difference,” Keselowski told ESPN. “You have to have a little luck and we had a big cloud cover there for a few minutes. I’m surprised no one else took advantage of it.

“We could win the 400th for the Captain (team owner Roger Penske). Boy, would I love to get that. … We’d like to get a win in us before we enter the Chase and have the top seed outright.”

Jeff Gordon will start on the outside of the front row, being the only other driver to exceed 126 mph in qualifying (126.039 mph).

“It’s been a tough day for us,” Gordon said. “These conditions are tough. It’s hot and slick out there and you’re trying to adjust your car for a night race and know you’re going to be qualifying late afternoon and early evening. I’m real proud of that.

“I’m happy that we’re on the front row, but at the same time, I still see how far behind we are behind the 2 car (Keselowski) and feel we have a race car that can compete with those guys and try to make that happen tomorrow night.”

Jimmie Johnson qualified third (125.898 mph), followed by Kevin Harvick (125.857), Joey Logano (125.663), Clint Bowyer (125.634), Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (125.476), Kyle Larson (125.081), Kurt Busch (124.913), Carl Edwards (124.665), Denny Hamlin (124.562) and Ryan Newman was 12th-fastest (124.464).

Other qualifying notes:

* Danica Patrick just barely missed making the final 12-driver second qualifying session, falling short by .020 of a second.

“When you’re that close, you think of all the little things,” Patrick said. “I haven’t been very good here, I think I used the word at Atlanta ‘sucked’ … it is frustrating being so close.

“This is much better than we’ve been before. I feel like I can have a strong night (in the race).”

Patrick is coming off a Sprint Cup career-best finish last Sunday night at Atlanta, where she finished sixth.

* Tony Stewart, who qualified 12th at Atlanta, struggled in qualifying at RIR. He’ll start 19th.

The only way Stewart, Patrick and 12 other drivers in the top-30 without wins thus far this season can make the Chase is to win Saturday night’s race.

* Ryan Truex and David Ragan never took a qualifying lap because they couldn’t get their cars through inspection in time.

* Clay Rogers was the only driver who failed to qualify of the 44 drivers that were on the entry list.

Here’s how Saturday’s starting lineup looks:

Row 1 Brad Keselowski, Jeff Gordon

Row 2 Jimmie Johnson, Kevin Harvick

Row 3 Joey Logano, Clint Bowyer

Row 4 Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Kyle Larson

Row 5 Kurt Busch, Carl Edwards

Row 6 Denny Hamlin, Ryan Newman

Row 7 Danica Patrick, Jamie McMurray

Row 8 Paul Menard, Matt Kenseth

Row 9 Greg Biffle, Brian Vickers

Row 10 Tony Stewart, Kyle Busch

Row 11 Kasey Kahne, Casey Mears

Row 12 AJ Allmendinger, Dale Earnhardt Jr.

Row 13 Alex Bowman, Aric Almirola

Row 14 Justin Allgaier, Austin Dillon

Row 15 Martin Truex Jr., David Gilliland

Row 16 David Stremme, Reed Sorenson

Row 17 Marcos Ambrose, Landon Cassill

Row 18 Cole Whitt, Josh Wise

Row 19 Travis Kvapil, J.J. Yeley

Row 20 Mike Bliss, Michael Annett

Row 21 Joe Nemechek, David Ragan

Row 22 Ryan Truex

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Zach Veach splits with Andretti Autosport for rest of IndyCar season

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Zach Veach will be leaving his Andretti Autosport ride with three races remaining in the season, choosing to explore options after the decision was made he wouldn’t return for 2021.

In a Wednesday release, Andretti Autosport said a replacement driver for the No. 26 Dallara-Honda would be named in the coming days. The NTT IndyCar Series will race Oct. 2-3 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course and then conclude the season Oct. 25 on the streets of St. Petersburg, Florida.

Veach was ranked 11th in the points standings through 11 races of his third season with Andretti. Since a fourth in the June 6 season opener at Texas Motor Speedway, he hadn’t finished higher than 14th.

“The decision was made that I will not be returning in 2021 with Andretti Autosport in the No. 26 Gainbridge car,” Veach said in the Andretti release. “This, along with knowing that limited testing exists for teams due to COVID, have led me to the decision to step out of the car for the remainder of the 2020 IndyCar season. I am doing this to allow the team to have time with other drivers as they prepare for 2021, and so that I can also explore my own 2021 options.

“This is the hardest decision I have ever made, but to me, racing is about family, and it is my belief that you take care of your family. Andretti Autosport is my family and I feel this is what is best to help us all reach the next step. I will forever be grateful to Michael and the team for all of their support over the years. I would not be where I am today if it wasn’t for a relationship that started many years ago with Road to Indy. I will also be forever grateful to Dan Towriss for his friendship and for the opportunity he and Gainbridge have given me.

“My love for this sport and the people involved is unmeasurable, and I look forward to continuing to be amongst the racing world and fans in 2021.”

Said team owner Michael Andretti: “We first welcomed Zach to the Andretti team back in his USF2000 days and have enjoyed watching him grow and evolve as a racer, and a person. His decision to allow us to use the last few races to explore our 2021 options shows the measure of his character.

“Zach has always placed team and family first, and we’re very happy to have had him as part of ours for so many years. We wish him the best in whatever 2021 may bring and will always consider him a friend.”

Andretti fields five full-time cars for Veach, Alexander Rossi, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Marco Andretti and Colton Herta.

It also has fielded James Hinchcliffe in three races this season.