NASCAR notebook: Keselowski flies to front row

  • Matt McCall, crew chief for Kurt Busch, examines computer monitors during qualifying for the NASCAR Cup Series auto race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon, N.H., Friday, July 19, 2019. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

  • Kurt Busch waits for his turn to qualify for the NASCAR Cup Series auto race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon, N.H., Friday, July 19, 2019. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

  • Brad Keselowski poses after winning the pole during qualifying for Sunday's NASCAR Cup Series auto race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon, N.H., Friday, July 19, 2019. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

Published: 7/19/2019 10:01:29 PM

LOUDON, N.H. — There are certain race tracks where starting in pole position matters a whole lot more than others. Count New Hampshire Motor Speedway near the top of that list.

Reaching top speeds of 136.384 mph, Brad Keselowski took the pole — his first of the season — for the Foxwoods Resort Casino 301 following qualifying on Friday for NASCAR’s Cup Series in Loudon. It was Keselowski’s fourth career pole at NHMS, his 15th overall and an important one for the standings heading into Sunday’s main event.

“The only other track I can think of where (qualifying well) is maybe more important is Martinsville in the fall,” said Keselowksi, who will be joined by overall points leader Kyle Busch on the front row. “We’re happy with that effort. It certainly bodes well for our shot to get those stage wins, and of course, the overall race win come Sunday.

“You’re happy for it. You take a breath. You celebrate it and you get your head back down and go to work,” Keselowski added.

After a blistering lap of 27.942 seconds, Busch held the top spot for less than a minute before Keselowski hit the track and produced the fastest lap of the afternoon at 27.927 seconds.

Keselowski last won the pole at NHMS in 2014’s fall race when he finished seventh. He also started first in the 2013 fall race (finished fourth) as well as 2010’s fall race (finished 18th), but hasn’t taken the checkered flag at the Magic Mile since 2014’s summer race when he started seventh before making a run to the front.

Due to constant changes at the track — application of PJ1 (a substance used for traction), regulations on car bodies, riding heights — Keselowski said there is no single strategy to employ when drivers make their way to New Hampshire.

“Every time they make those changes, it affects the way the car drives and how you maximize the lap time on it,” Keselowski said. “It’s part of the challenge of being in the Cup Series. … I don’t think there’s one trick that’s served us through the years.”

Kurt Busch and Erik Jones will line up on the second row, while Ryan Blaney and Martin Truex Jr. are one row back. Two New England drivers making their Cup series debuts — Andy Seuss and Austin Theriault — are both slated to start on row 18.

Alex Bowman will be in a backup car on Sunday. The drive shaft in Bowman’s No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevy exploded as he drove full-throttle down the frontstretch during his qualifying lap, leaving a trail of smoke behind and oil on the track.

“It’s a bummer, but stuff happens, parts fail,” he said.

Bowman will start in last place and have the last pit stall.

Backup Cars Roll Out: Bowman wasn’t the only driver to unload his backup car on Friday.

Denny Hamlin and Ryan Newman will join him in the back of the field to start Sunday’s Foxwoods 301. Both drivers went to their backup cars after wrecking in separate incidents in the closing minutes of the first practice session Friday morning.

Hamlin lost control between turns 3 and 4 with just four minutes left in the 50-minute session, sending the No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Camry backward into the outside wall. Newman, a few minutes later, hit the outside wall entering Turn 3. Both teams unloaded their backup cars and ran qualifying laps.

Hamlin won here in a backup car in July 2017. He crashed during Friday practice leading up to that race, as well. But that was then, and it doesn’t make Hamlin feel any better about the situation this weekend.

“It’s not as good as the primary — it’s a backup for a reason, and it’s been in the trailer for a long time,” he said after qualifying. “The backup car back (in 2017) was a little bit more updated than what this one is.”

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