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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Kyle Busch interests McLaren for Indy 500, but team is leaning toward experience

McLaren Indy Kyle Busch
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With Arrow McLaren SP heavily weighing a fourth car for the Indy 500 next year, Kyle Busch is a candidate but not at the top of the IndyCar team’s list.

McLaren Racing CEO Zak Brown addressed the possibility Wednesday morning during a video news conference with Gavin Ward, the team’s newly named racing director.

“I have not personally spoken with Kyle Busch, but you can read into that that someone else in our organization has,” Brown said. “We want to make sure if we run a fourth car, we’re in the mindset that we want someone that is experienced around the 500. It’s such an important race, and from a going for the championship point of view, we’ve got three drivers that we want to have finish as strong as possible, so if we ran a fourth car, we’d want to be additive, not only for the fourth car itself, but to the three cars and so bringing in someone who’s not done it before potentially doesn’t add that value from an experience point of view.”

Busch will race the No. 8 Chevrolet for Richard Childress Racing next season in NASCAR under a new deal that will allow the two-time Cup Series champion to make his Indy 500 debut. Busch, who had a previous deal to run the Indy 500 nixed by Joe Gibbs Racing, openly courted Chevy IndyCar teams to contact him during his introductory news conference with RCR last month.

After Team Penske (which has given no indications of a fourth car at Indy alongside champion Will Power, Josef Newgarden and Scott McLaughlin), McLaren is the second-best Chevy organization, and it’s fielded an extra Indy 500 car the past two years for Juan Pablo Montoya. The Associated Press reported last month that McLaren was in “serious conversation” about running Busch at Indy with Menards sponsorship.

But with its restructured management, the team is in the midst of significant expansion for 2023. AMSP is adding a third full-time car for 2016 Indy 500 winner Alexander Rossi to team with Pato O’Ward and Felix Rosenqvist, and a massive new shop also is being built in the Indianapolis area.

“(It’s) not because of him but purely because of experience,” Brown said of Busch. “He’s an awesome talent and would be huge, huge news for the speedway. But yeah, I think everyone is under consideration if we decide to do it, but experience is right at the top of the list as far as what’s going to be the most important to us.”

And it seems likely there will be a veteran joining Rossi, O’Ward and Rosenqvist at the Brickyard.

“A fourth car at the 500 is very much under consideration,” Brown said. “I wouldn’t even want to get ahead of ourselves, but we wouldn’t be ruling out a fourth car in the future on a full-time basis. That definitely wouldn’t be for ’23. But as we expand the team and get into larger facilities and things of that nature, it’s something that Gavin and I have spoken about.

“I think we would be in a position to run a fourth car at the 500 this upcoming year. If we do decide to do that, we’ll make that decision soon for maximum preparation, and I would say we’re open minded to a fourth car in ’24 and beyond and probably will make that decision middle of next year in time to be prepared if we did decide to do that.”

Brown also addressed the future of Alex Palou, who will be racing for Chip Ganassi Racing next season after also signing a deal with McLaren. Though Brown declined to get into specifics about whether Palou had signed a new deal, he confirmed Palou will continue to test “our Formula One car from time to time.

“Everyone has reached an amicable solution,” Brown said. “We’ve now had Alex in our Formula One car as we have Pato. That will continue in the future, which we’re quite excited about. At this point we’re laser-focused on 2023 and glad to have the noise behind us and now just want to put our head down and get on with the job with the three drivers we have.”