Keselowski, ranked a dismal 26th in the Sprint Cup points standings, stunned the 12 contenders in the Chase for the Sprint Cup Friday afternoon, as he claimed the pole for the Sylvania 300 at NHMS.
The Michigan native lapped the 1.058-mile Loudon, N.H., oval at 133.572 miles per hour, good enough to put the No. 12 Penske Racing Dodge on the pole for the opening Chase race.
“We’ve had a really good race car in qualifying trim since practice started,” said Keselowski who this year is on track to win the NASCAR Nationwide Series title. “We’re very happy with it in race trim, but really good in qualifying trim. ... I feel really good about that lap.”
Keselowski’s first full season in the Sprint Cup Series has been a disappointment, so the pole was especially welcome. “It’s been a struggle all year long and we’re just looking for that spark. And hopefully this is it,” said Keselowski.
“It's just a whole new rejuvenation for our race team,” said Bowyer, the last man to race his way into the Chase. “We're starting over. When we went into this thing, if you think about it, we were 500 points out. And (now) we're 60 points out. That's a big change in one race time. So, 10 races to go. This is a fun atmosphere to be in. We're excited about it. There are good race tracks for us. There are 10 tracks that are really good for me. I think we'll be good.”
Two-time Sprint Cup champion Tony Stewart will roll off third, putting his N. 14 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet on the inside of Row 2 with a lap of 133.413 mph.
“You approach this race just like you do the spring race,” said Stewart. “You can’t race with the Chase in mind. You have got to race the race and you have to take it one week at a time. ... It is a three-day weekend and we will literally take it one day at time and focus each day on what the job is and the what that task is for that day and not over think the rest of it. I think that is where you get yourself in trouble, just thinking about the stuff that is really out of our control right now. So you just focus on the things that we did to get ourselves in the Chase.”
Stewart will be flanked by Daytona 500 and Brickyard 400 winner Jamie McMurray in the No. 1 Earnhardt Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates Chevrolet, which ran 133.389 mph. McMurray’s teammate, Juan Pablo Montoya, qualified fifth at 131.329 mph.
Sunday’s race is the opening event for the Chase for the Sprint Cup, and NHMS is a notoriously difficult place to pass, making Friday afternoon’s qualifying session more critical than some time trials on the NASCAR schedule.
“The first race of the Chase is always real intense,” said Jeff Burton. “It’s fun. The first race of the Chase is a lot of fun. There is a lot of pressure It’s exciting. I’m proud to be here with the situation that we’re in and we’ll see if we can go get off to a good start.”
Failing to qualify were Johnny Sauter and Jeff Green.
Tom Jensen is the Editor in Chief of SPEED.com, Senior NASCAR Editor at RACER and a contributing Editor for TruckSeries.com. You can follow him online at twitter.com/tomjensen100 and e-mail him at Jensen is the author of “Cheating: The Bad Things Good NASCAR Nextel Cup Racers Do In Pursuit of Speed,” and has appeared on numerous television and radio shows. Jensen is the past President of the National Motorsports Press Association and an NMPA Writer of the Year.