Keselowski storms to pole in Darlington

Brad Keselowski
Getty Images for NASCAR

Brad Keselowski scored his first Sprint Cup pole of the season on Saturday during qualifying for Sunday’s Bojangles Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway.

Keselowski topped the third and final round of qualifying with a lap of 27.492 seconds (178.874 mph) to beat out Kurt Busch and Kevin Harvick for his ninth-career Sprint Cup pole. Joey Logano and Jeff Gordon made up the rest of the top five qualifiers.

Keselowski’s pole marks his career-best start at Darlington, topping his previous best of fifth last season. He has one top five finish in six previous starts at the “Track Too Tough To Tame".

“This is probably the biggest pole I have ever had as far as what the track means," said Keselowski. “It is hard to explain that to people that maybe are outsiders of the sport. I have always thought of Darlington as being one of the elite tracks in NASCAR. You look at Daytona, probably Bristol, Charlotte and Darlington as definitely in the top-five, maybe top-two or three to our sport and what it means. When I think of that, I think that any success you have on those tracks is just a ‘whoa’ moment. It is huge. So in that sense this is a great accomplishment to me personally and it means a lot."

Sunday’s race marks the return of the Labor Day classic that had been a tradition at NASCAR’s oldest superspeedway since 1950 before NASCAR shifted the Labor day race to California Speedway in 2004 and then to Atlanta Motor Speedway in 2009.

NASCAR has spent the weekend honoring the long history of Darlington and the sport with a “throwback" theme, including retro paintjobs and vintage TV commercials.

In keeping with the “throwback" theme, Keselowski’s Miller Lite paint scheme honored the car that Bobby Allison drove to victory in the 1983 Southern 500.

The weekend’s race will also be the second time teams have utilized the “low downforce" package that was used earlier this season at Kentucky, combined with a new tire compound made specifically for this event.

“Every year I have been in Cup I think back to the first year and just how difficult the cars were to drive," said Keselowski. “They have progressively gotten easier to drive with some of the changes that have been made. This is a step back with the downforce off the car to where the cars are harder to drive. I just really appreciate and respect that. I feel up to the challenge.

“I think that is great and the way racing should be and that we are hitting the marks of what the proper package should be for a Sprint Cup driver to try to handle. This is a step in that direction and I feel like whoever will win this race tomorrow, with more likelihood than previously, will have earned it. And that is exactly why this is the right direction to go."

Greg Biffle and Danica Patrick were among the drivers who earned their “Darlington stripe" after smacking the wall during qualifying. Kyle Busch put his Toyota Camry in the wall during Friday’s practice session, forcing him to a backup car.

“The Lady in Black, she’ll spin you around or spit you out if you treat her the wrong way," said Kurt Busch, who admitted his no. 41 Chevrolet kissed the wall during his qualifying run. “For qualifying, you try to attack the track and get all you can out of it for that one lap and say, ‘Thank you, I just wanted to borrow the track for an instant.’ And then you give it back to her because this is a tough track.

“The lady will teach you that is not what you are supposed to do. You try to survive as long as you can all night long without putting marks on your car, but as soon as you do it seems like you roll up your sleeves and you have to get even that much more serious about it, but still not overdrive the car. It’s a very fine line."

Denny Hamlin, Martin Truex, Jr., Ricky Stenhouse, Jr., Ryan Blaney and Kyle Busch rounded out the top ten qualifiers. Josh Wise, Timmy Hill and Travis Kvapil failed to qualify for the event.

Lineup

Pos # Driver Manufacturer Sponsor Speed Time Behind
1 2 Brad Keselowski Ford Miller High Life 178.874 27.492 Leader
2 41 Kurt Busch Chevrolet Haas Automation 177.588 27.691 0.199
3 4 Kevin Harvick Chevrolet Budweiser / Jimmy John's 177.415 27.718 0.226
4 22 Joey Logano Ford Shell Pennzoil 177.319 27.733 0.241
5 24 Jeff Gordon Chevrolet 3M 177.192 27.753 0.261
6 11 Denny Hamlin Toyota Sport Clips 176.905 27.798 0.306
7 78 Martin Truex Jr Chevrolet Furniture Row/Visser Precision 176.848 27.807 0.315
8 17 Ricky Stenhouse Jr Ford Cargill Ford Fusion 176.67 27.835 0.343
9 21 Ryan Blaney Ford Snap-On Tools 176.195 27.91 0.418
10 18 Kyle Busch Toyota M&M's Crispy 176.075 27.929 0.437
11 43 Aric Almirola Ford STP 175.962 27.947 0.455
12 27 Paul Menard Chevrolet Moen / Menards 175.297 28.053 0.561
13 19 Carl Edwards Toyota Arris 177.511 27.703 0.211
14 20 Matt Kenseth Toyota Dollar General 177.217 27.749 0.257
15 5 Kasey Kahne Chevrolet HendrickRideAlong.com 177.204 27.751 0.259
16 42 Kyle Larson Chevrolet Mello Yello 177.134 27.762 0.27
17 14 Tony Stewart Chevrolet Bass Pro Shops / Mobil 1 177.045 27.776 0.284
18 6 Trevor Bayne Ford Advocare Ford Fusion 177.013 27.781 0.289
19 48 Jimmie Johnson Chevrolet Lowe's 176.86 27.805 0.313
20 1 Jamie McMurray Chevrolet McDonald's/Cessna 176.568 27.851 0.359
21 55 David Ragan Toyota Ol' Aaron's Dream Machine 176.264 27.899 0.407
22 25 Chase Elliott Chevrolet NAPA Auto Parts 176.119 27.922 0.43
23 31 Ryan Newman Chevrolet Caterpillar 175.943 27.95 0.458
24 16 Greg Biffle Ford Ortho Ford Fusion 153.498 32.037 4.545
25 83 Matt DiBenedetto Toyota Cosmo Motors 177.339 27.73 0.238
26 88 Dale Earnhardt Jr Chevrolet Valvoline 177 27.783 0.291
27 51 Justin Allgaier Chevrolet Brandt 177 27.783 0.291
28 15 Clint Bowyer Toyota Buddy Baker Tribute Toyota Camry 176.714 27.828 0.336
29 3 Austin Dillon Chevrolet American Ethanol 176.682 27.833 0.341
30 10 Danica Patrick Chevrolet GoDaddy 176.613 27.844 0.352
31 40 Landon Cassill Chevrolet #Snap Honor 176.594 27.847 0.355
32 13 Casey Mears Chevrolet No. 13 GEICO Chevrolet SS 176.511 27.86 0.368
33 9 Sam Hornish Jr Ford Winn Dixie 176.372 27.882 0.39
34 47 AJ Allmendinger Chevrolet Kroger/House-Autry 176.144 27.918 0.426
35 7 Alex Bowman Chevrolet Tommy Baldwin Racing Chevrolet 176.025 27.937 0.445
36 26 J.J. Yeley Toyota Beds For Kids 175.981 27.944 0.452
37 35 Cole Whitt Ford Speed Stick 175.159 28.075 0.583
38 38 David Gilliland Ford Love's Travel Stops 174.68 28.152 0.66
39 46 Michael Annett Chevrolet Pilot Flying J 174.624 28.161 0.669
40 34 Brett Moffitt Ford Dockside 174.117 28.243 0.751
41 23 Jeb Burton Toyota Estes 173.97 28.267 0.775
42 33 Mike Bliss Chevrolet Little Joe's Auto Chevrolet SS 172.954 28.433 0.941
43 98 T.J. Bell Ford Premium Motorsports 172.167 28.563 1.071

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