Brad Keselowski had a fast Friday in Texas. The Penske Racing driver was the fastest car on the track Friday leading NASCAR Sprint Cup practice and all three knockout qualifying rounds at the 1.5 mile Texas Motor Speedway to grab his 11th career pole , and his first at Texas. Keselowski put down a lap of 27.421, 196.929 miles per hour halfway through the final five minute round and will lead the field to the green for Sunday’s AAA Texas 500.
“This is a good start but our ultimate goal is to be the fastest at the end of the race on Sunday,” Keselowski said.
The top four starters are in the Chase. Kevin Harvick, who was second in Friday’s lone practice session, backed that up in qualifying and will start second, Kyle Busch will start third, Joey Logano fourth and non-Chase driver Kyle Larson fifth.
“Pretty much ran the same speed in all three rounds there,” Harvick said. “Didn’t quite have the raw speed in the first round, but this is a racetrack where you want the car to keep going as long as you can. Felt like we had a good start to our race trim practice today and going to have a good spot to start on Sunday.”
Unlike his last pole in Kansas, Keselowski will be able to keep his pit stall selection. At Kansas, Keselowski won the pole, but after he and his team received their fourth written warning from NASCAR after the event at Charlotte Motor Speedway a week prior, the team was penalized with an automatic loss of pit selection at Kansas.
“Other than the pit stall it doesn’t really mean a lot for Sunday,” Keselowski said. “We have a lot of work in front of us and there will be a lot of hungry dogs chasing us all race long. We will go to work on it. At Kansas we had a lot of speed in practice and qualifying and it didn’t show up in the race so we know you can’t take anything for granted in this sport and we have to keep working.”
Keselowski enters Texas needing a win or a good finish. He is currently sixth in the Chase, two spots below the cutoff to advance to the final championship race at Homestead-Miami. Several other Chase drivers will have to hope for good fortune; Carl Edwards, fifth in the standings qualified 13th, Jeff Gordon, who leads the standings and is guaranteed a spot thanks to his win last week at Martinsville will start 18th and Martin Truex Jr., third in the standings will roll off 23rd.
“We never really clicked in qualifying trim today and that’s why we’re starting in the middle of the pack,” Truex said. “But we’ve been there before and fought our way to the front. As I keep on saying this team never quits. We’re always working hard to find the right combination and I am hopeful that our car will perform better in race trim during tomorrow’s two practice sessions.”
Erik Jones, who is subbing for the suspended Matt Kenseth staged an impressive qualifying performance, will start sixth.
“Sixth is a really good effort for us,” Jones said. “We’ll see where it goes from here, obviously we’ve got a long ways to go yet for Sunday – 500 miles. This definitely helps everybody’s confidence a little bit for that.”
Chase driver Kurt Busch will start seventh followed by Jimmie Johnson, Denny Hamlin and Dale Earnhardt Jr. Danica Patrick and Greg Biffle, both of whom advanced to the final round will start 11th and 12th respectively.
Joey Gase and Reed Sorenson failed to make the field. Notable starter is Michael Annette whose team lost both racecars in a hauler fire in route to Texas; he qualified 38th in the backup car belonging to HScott Motorsports teammate Justin Allgaier. The full lineup can be found here. The NASCAR Sprint Cup AAA Texas 500 will get the green flag just after 2:00 p.m. ET Sunday with live coverage on NBC.