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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