Brad Keselowski timed it perfectly to win the pole for Sunday’s FedEx 400 benefitting Autism Speaks at Dover International Speedway, shattering the track qualifying record in the process.
The first driver to hit the track in the second and final round of qualifying, Keselowski wheeled his No. 2 Team Penske Ford to a track record lap of 164.444 miles per hour to claim his second pole of the year and the fifth of his career in 174 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series starts. He has qualified on the front row eight times this season.
"We had a great car all day and just wanted to get going," Keselowski said of his decision to be the first car on the track in the final round. And it paid off for him, as he had a little cloud cover that might have given him just a little extra grip.
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Keselowski attributed the success of Team Penske’s qualifying efforts to combination of pure speed and properly managing NASCAR’s new-for-2014 qualifying format.
"You know, speed is the backbone of any success in motorsports," Keselowski said. "Being the backbone, that doesn’t mean it is the totality of what you need. You need more than just that. You have to execute and you can’t make any mistakes across the board with all the ancillary things you have to work on with these cars. In that sense, we have a strong backbone and great speed and we have been executing very well on qualifying day."
Keselowski, who won earlier this year at Las Vegas, is eager to see his qualifying success transfer to more race days.
"We have to keep that up. It has been great," Keselowski said of his execution in qualifying. "We need to do that in race trim as well. You have to execute in race trim and we haven’t been exactly where we want to be there. Qualifying well is a good start to the weekend but there is a lot more to it with racing. We have to carry that over."
The competition for the pole was close on Friday.
Kyle Busch was second in his Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota at 163.785 miles per hour. "We just got beat by speed there," Busch said. "But the car’s been really fast all weekend, we’re real happy with it in race trim and everything, so I think we’ll be good for the race on Sunday."
Behind Busch it was Keselowski’s Penske teammate Joey Logano, six-time Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson in a Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet and rookie Kyle Larson out of the Chip Ganassi stable.
The second five consisted of Denny Hamlin in a second JGR Toyota, Jeff Gordon’s Hendrick Chevy, Kevin Harvick in a Stewart-Haas Racing Chevy and the Toyotas of Michael Waltrip Racing teammates Brian Vickers and Clint Bowyer.
The qualifying format was two rounds: The first 30-minute round set positions 13-43, with the top 12 spots set in the second, 10-minute session.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. was 13th in Round 1, failing to advance to the final round by just 0.002 seconds.
"We made some good adjustments in practice and freed the car up a good amount," Earnhardt said. "But it was just not enough. I was happy with the car earlier in race trim today. It’s not too bad a qualifying spot. It’s a little bit of an improvement for us."
Other drivers failing to get out of the first round included Ryan Newman (14th), Tony Stewart (20th), Matt Kenseth (21st), Danica Patrick (28th) and Carl Edwards (29th).
Patrick said she experimented with her attack during qualifying, but it didn’t work.
"Hey, it’s alright," said Patrick. "We’ve got all kinds of time on Sunday."
With only 43 cars entered in the race, there were no DNQs on Friday.