By Reid Spencer, NASCAR Wire Service
FORT WORTH, Texas—As a driver who likely must win one of the next two races to keep his NASCAR Sprint Cup Series title prospects alive, Brad Keselowski took a giant step in the right direction during Friday’s knockout qualifying session at Texas Motor Speedway.
The 2012 series champion covered the 1.5-mile distance in 27.929 seconds (196.929 mph) in the money round to win the pole for Sunday’s AAA Texas 500 (2 p.m. ET on NBC), the second of three races in the Eliminator Round of the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.
The Coors Light Pole Award was Keselowski’s first at Texas, his third of the season and the 11th of his career. It was also the third pole in the last four races for Team Penske.
The driver of the No. 2 Ford posted the fastest time in each of the three knockout rounds. Kevin Harvick (195.993 mph) qualified second, followed by Kyle Busch (195.716 mph) and Joey Logano (195.419 mph), as Chase drivers claimed the top four spots on the grid.
However, Keselowski and Logano, embroiled in catastrophe and controversy last week at Martinsville Speedway, are on decidedly different agendas from those of Busch and Harvick, who are tied for second and fourth, respectively, in the Chase standings.
“This is a good start, but our ultimate goal is to be the fastest at the end of the race on Sunday,” Keselowski said. “It’s a good start, and it gets us up front with a great pit stall, and hopefully we can make the most of it.
“I’m pumped about this race. Track position is important everywhere, and here isn’t as much as maybe a few others, because the track wears out, and you see some comers and goers with the way the track wears out—but we will still take it.”
Keselowski and Penske teammate Logano are six and eighth, respectively, among the eight drivers still eligible for the championship.
“I think, if you’re not in the top five right now, you’re in a must-win situation,” Keselowski said. “Thankfully, we started out in the right situation with being fast. We feel like we’ll be really strong next week at Phoenix as well.
“So all signs point to us having a very strong opportunity to win one of the next two.”
Non-chase drivers took the fifth and sixth starting spots, with Kyle Larson qualifying on the inside of the third row and Erik Jones, subbing for suspended Matt Kenseth, grabbing the sixth position on the grid. Kenseth must sit out the next two races for wrecking Logano last Sunday at Martinsville.
“Sixth is a really good effort for us,” Jones said. “We made the final round at Kansas as well (in relief of injured Kyle Busch in May), so it’s cool to make the final round in both our starts.
“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.”
Kurt Busch, who also needs a win to stay in the Sprint Cup title hunt, will start seventh. Chase driver Carl Edwards qualified 13th, missing the cutoff for the final round by .004 seconds.
Jeff Gordon, who secured a spot in the Nov. 22 Championship Round race at Homestead-Miami Speedway by winning at Martinsville, will start 18th. Martin Truex Jr. will take the green flag from the deepest position in the field among Chase drivers—23rd.
Danica Patrick posted a season-best 11th-place qualifying effort.
NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Qualifying – AAA Texas 500
1. (2) Brad Keselowski, Ford, 196.929 mph.
2. (4) Kevin Harvick, Chevrolet, 195.993 mph.
3. (18) Kyle Busch, Toyota, 195.716 mph.
4. (22) Joey Logano, Ford, 195.419 mph.
5. (42) Kyle Larson, Chevrolet, 195.341 mph.
6. (20) Erik Jones(i), Toyota, 195.298 mph.
7. (41) Kurt Busch, Chevrolet, 194.988 mph.
8. (48) Jimmie Johnson, Chevrolet, 194.890 mph.
9. (11) Denny Hamlin, Toyota, 194.665 mph.
10. (88) Dale Earnhardt Jr., Chevrolet, 194.475 mph.
11. (10) Danica Patrick, Chevrolet, 193.313 mph.
12. (16) Greg Biffle, Ford, 190.402 mph.
13. (19) Carl Edwards, Toyota, 195.341 mph.
14. (15) Clint Bowyer, Toyota, 195.327 mph.
15. (55) David Ragan, Toyota, 195.178 mph.
16. (5) Kasey Kahne, Chevrolet, 195.143 mph.
17. (13) Casey Mears, Chevrolet, 194.819 mph.
18. (24) Jeff Gordon, Chevrolet, 194.637 mph.
19. (31) Ryan Newman, Chevrolet, 194.560 mph.
20. (27) Paul Menard, Chevrolet, 194.175 mph.
21. (33) Brian Scott(i), Chevrolet, 194.175 mph.
22. (14) Tony Stewart, Chevrolet, 194.112 mph.
23. (78) Martin Truex Jr., Chevrolet, 194.000 mph.
24. (43) Aric Almirola, Ford, 193.666 mph.
25. (21) Ryan Blaney(i), Ford, 195.525 mph.
26. (3) Austin Dillon, Chevrolet, 195.496 mph.
27. (1) Jamie McMurray, Chevrolet, 195.334 mph.
28. (17) Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Ford, 195.157 mph.
29. (6) Trevor Bayne, Ford, 195.143 mph.
30. (47) AJ Allmendinger, Chevrolet, 194.735 mph.
31. (7) Alex Bowman, Chevrolet, 194.644 mph.
32. (9) Sam Hornish Jr., Ford, 194.623 mph.
33. (95) Michael McDowell, Ford, 193.472 mph.
34. (26) JJ Yeley(i), Toyota, 192.940 mph.
35. (34) Brett Moffitt #, Ford, 192.651 mph.
36. (40) Landon Cassill(i), Chevrolet, 192.445 mph.
37. (46) Michael Annett, Chevrolet, Owner Points
38. (83) Matt DiBenedetto #, Toyota, Owner Points
39. (35) Cole Whitt, Ford, Owner Points
40. (23) Jeb Burton #, Toyota, Owner Points
41. (38) David Gilliland, Ford, Owner Points
42. (98) Ryan Preece, Chevrolet, Owner Points
43. (51) Justin Allgaier, Chevrolet, Owner Points
2 drivers failed to qualify.
44. (32) Joey Gase(i), Ford, 190.617 mph.
45. (62) Reed Sorenson, Toyota, 187.865 mph.
Image: Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images for Texas Motor Speedway