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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NHRA: Steve Torrence’s 2nd Top Fuel title was emotional roller coaster day

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There’s no question Steve Torrence is a proud Texan. When he’s not strapping on his racing helmet, the Kilgore, Texas resident proudly wears a black cowboy hat and shiny boots practically everywhere he goes.

It’s just part of who one of the Lone Star State’s favorite sons is.

Torrence also has a great deal to be proud of after winning his second consecutive Top Fuel championship in Sunday’s NHRA season-ending national event at Pomona, California.

In doing so, he joins seven of the biggest names in drag racing history to win back-to-back titles: Don Garlits, Joe Amato, the late Scott Kalitta, Gary Scelzi, Tony Schumacher, Larry Dixon and Antron Brown.

Torrence followed up last season’s 11 wins – including being the first driver to win all six Countdown to the Championship playoff races – with nine wins in 2019, giving him 36 career wins and 55 final round appearances in his career.

But as he was interviewed shortly after he clinched the championship — even though he lost in the semifinal round of eliminations — instead of being effusive and ecstatic, Torrence was also uncharacteristically somewhat solemn and melancholy at the same time.

After publicly thanking his team – “the best in the business,” as Torrence frequently says – he also quickly paid tribute to a young man from Texas by the name of Brandon Seegers, who was tragically killed in an ATV accident last week (the young man in glasses is pictured in the tweet below).

Torrence wanted the world to know who Brandon was, calling him one of Torrence Racing’s biggest fans. It wasn’t lip service. Brandon – a 15-year-old freshman football player at Carthage (Texas) High School – truly was one of Torrence’s biggest supporters. He’ll be buried Tuesday.

Torrence also paid tribute to Brandon’s parents. The young man’s father has worked 30 years for Capco Contractors Inc., an oil and gas company owned by Torrence’s family. In a sense, because of their close relationship, Brandon and his parents are extended members of the Torrence family.

“This is for the Seegers family, who lost their little boy the Wednesday of last week,” Torrence said. “He was the biggest Capco fan there was. We’re taking the championship trophy home to him. We’re going to give it to all the Capco guys and his family.”

Admit it, when was the last time you heard someone in sports win a championship and then dedicate that effort to a young fan who was tragically killed just a few days earlier in an accident.

But that’s the kind of guy Torrence is, one of the classiest individuals in motorsports. And if you don’t really know who he is, you should, because you might understand why Torrence is who he is.

At the age of 36, Torrence is not just a survivor of the 1,000-foot dragstrips wars from New Hampshire to Seattle to Phoenix to Gainesville and everywhere in-between.

He’s also a survivor of something much more important: Before he was Steve Torrence, two-time NHRA Top Fuel champ, he was Steve Torrence, cancer and heart attack survivor. That kind of thing gives someone a much different perspective than most other individuals.

Torrence knows how fortunate he is to not only be a two-time champion, but more importantly, to be alive to earn and enjoy both of those titles. He came close, really close, to not being here anymore. That’s why Brandon’s death hit Torrence so hard.

He even tried to keep from choking up when he told the crowd about who his young friend Brandon was.

Torrence spent much of the weekend at Pomona thinking about his young fan. It definitely affected Torrence’s mindset and demeanor, especially on Sunday, with the pressure packed championship on the line.

To illustrate how different Torrence acted, he was involved in an incident after the first round that was completely out of character. While he may be one of the most competitive drivers on the NHRA circuit, he’s also normally a very level-headed, calm and cool persona.

Torrence uncharacteristically slapped young opponent and part-time Top Fuel driver Cameron Ferre in the face at the end of the drag strip after they climbed from their race cars following their first round run and exchanged words.

Normally a fan favorite, Torrence was uncharacteristically criticized on social media and was met with a wave of fan boos after the race when he climbed on stage to accept his championship trophy and the big check that came with it. A contrite Torrence eventually issued a public apology to both Ferre and fans, admitting he was wrong. The NHRA is reviewing the incident and still could penalize Torrence.

“Tensions are high,” Torrence told NHRA.com. “There’s a lot of crap going on out there, but there’s still no excuse for me acting that way. I apologize to every fan, all my racing friends and racing rivals. It was a heat-of-the moment reaction on a day when emotions were high, especially in the Capco camp. I talked to Cameron and we’ll just put it behind us and move on.”

Given the championship pressure and what he was enduring emotionally, Sunday may not have been Torrence’s finest moment or best day professionally or personally. But at the same time, he further cemented why he’s on his way to becoming one of the best drivers in Top Fuel history, that he makes mistakes and was man enough to admit when he made one.

He also cares for others and what they go through perhaps more than most because he himself came so close to not being around to enjoy the success he has enjoyed to date – and all the additional success that he’s likely to continue to enjoy for many more years to come.

 

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