On a throwback weekend as NASCAR celebrates its past, one of its newest champions will lead the field to the green for the historic Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway Sunday. Brad Keselowski sporting a retro paint scheme made famous by NASCAR legend Bobby Allison, put down a lap of 27.492 seconds, 178.874 mph early in the final five minute round of qualifying Saturday to score his first career pole at the track called “Too Tough to Tame”.
It was Keselowski’s first pole of the season as he has struggled with NASCAR’s rules package for 2015. This weekend however, NASCAR has instituted a low-downforce package that has made the racecars harder to control than before. That seemed to benefit Keselowski Saturday as he led the final two rounds and won his ninth career pole.
“The track was changing and the car was falling off as the tires were falling off and it is hot so the track was hard to get ahold of,” Keselowski said. “But the car is fast and my team did a great job. We just executed when it counted. The number one pit stall will be big because there will be a lot of pit stops with the tires wearing off so much. I think it will be about clean air and holding track position as long as you can. This is a track position race and the new rules will make the cars hard to get ahold of and keep off the wall. You have to keep it off the wall.”
Several drivers struggled to advance out of the first of three rounds chief among them was Dale Earnhardt Jr. who will start 26th. His teammate Jimmie Johnson just made it into the second round but fell far short of making the final round and will start 19th. Their Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jeff Gordon in his final Darlington start was able to put it all together and will roll off fifth Sunday.
“I’m excited,” Gordon said. “That was a really nice qualifying effort. The car was rock solid. We didn’t make a qualifying run yesterday, so I was pretty nervous coming into today. The guys really focused on the race, so I’m equally or more excited about the race than I am how well this qualifying session went. The car definitely has the speed. We kept up with the tires and the track, so I’m very proud of that top five.”
Between Keselowski and Gordon, Kurt Busch, who led the first round, will start second, last year’s Darlington winner from the pole Kevin Harvick will start third and Joey Logano fourth. Denny Hamlin will start sixth, Martin Truex Jr. seventh, with Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Ryan Blaney and Kyle Busch rounding out the top 10. The full lineup can be found here.
Greg Biffle, who was fast during Friday’s practices nearly spun out during his run in round two and will start 24th. Danica Patrick had secured a 30th place starting spot but a meeting with the wall during the first session will force her to a backup car and to the rear of the field Sunday.
“It’s definitely not the position we wanted to be in,” Patrick said. “But it’s a long race, so we’ll just try our best to gain track position every chance we get.”
Josh Wise, Timmy Hill and Travis Kvapil failed to make the field. The NASCAR Sprint Cup series will get the green flag just after 7:00 p.m. ET Sunday with live coverage on NBC.