Notebook: Brad Keselowski earns first pole as part-owner at Texas


FORT WORTH, Texas – It’s safe to say it’s been a good week for Brad Keselowski.

Last weekend in Bristol, Tennessee, the team he is now a partner in – Roush-Fenway-Keselowski Racing with driver Chris Buescher – won its first racing trophy since he joined the organization earlier this year.

And now, just days later, Keselowski has responded to that positive momentum with his first pole position in the year since becoming the team’s owner.

“It’s certainly a big step forward,” said Keselowski. “You do things in this sport and it takes six to eight months to get noticed. It takes months and months of hard work to get it all together and it’s super painful.”

Keselowski lined up his No. 6 RFK Ford Mustang for Sunday’s (3:30 p.m. ET, USA Network, PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) AutoTrader EchoPark Automotive 500 with a 188,990 mph lap around the 1.5-mile Texas High Banks – marks his first pole position since the 2019 season. However, Keselowski recalled that the series did not hold qualifying sessions during the 2020 COVID-19 season.

This is the 18th career pole for 2012 series champion Keselowski. He is aiming for his first NASCAR Cup Series win at Texas Motor Speedway.

Keselowski’s former teammate from Team Penske, Joey Logano, will start alongside him on the front row. Hendrick Motorsports’ William Byron and Richard Childress Racing’s Tyler Reddick will start their Chevrolets from the second row.

Six playoff cars advanced to final qualifying on Saturday morning. Next to Logano and Byron, current championship leader Chase Elliott was sixth fastest. Denny Hamlin (8th), Kyle Larson (9th) and Daniel Suarez (10th) rounded out qualifying for the second round. Austin Cindric, who was eleventh fastest, was the best qualifying rookie.

“Obviously very proud to show speed,” Keselowski said, noting that he has to remember to stop sometimes and reflect on progress.

“Now it really shows. It’s been a painful journey, but a good one.”

Richard Childress Racing won opening practice in Texas. Despite just being eliminated from playoff contention, Austin Dillon – a 2020 Texas winner – and Reddick were the fastest two cars in practice, with Dillon’s No. 3 Chevrolet turning a fast lap of 187.643 mph. Hendrick Motorsports’ Alex Bowman, Logano and Petty GMS Racing’s Erik Jones rounded out the top five in practice.

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CHAMP FAVORITE

The result of such a long NASCAR Cup Series winner’s list in 2022 – which includes so many non-championship-eligible race winners – has only added to the excitement and intensity of the playoff standings heading into Round 2, which now has just 34 Points apart are leader Elliott to 12th place Austin Cindric.

And with the list of ‘new’ winners amidst a ‘consistency’ contender list, many of the riders fighting for the big trophy say they still don’t know who the rider to beat might be.

Perennial championship favorite Hamlin, who has struggled to stay within the top 15 in points this season despite two wins, appears to be improving his game in time for the playoffs. The driver of the #11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota had back-to-back second places at Darlington, SC and Kansas, and then a ninth place that showed up at Bristol last weekend.

“I don’t think there’s a championship favorite,” said reigning champion Kyle Larson. “Chase (Elliott) is getting through the first round, it wasn’t a great first round by his standards, his team’s and what they had for points going in. So I feel like for him to go through the round and reset – as long as he can go through that round I think he’s probably still the favorite.

Obviously, as a former champion and current championship leader, Elliott was the favorite, but so was a young rider in only his second playoff. Joe Gibbs Racing’s Christopher Bell scored the most points on the championship tally in the opening race, and while many playoff drivers insisted there was no overwhelming favorite, Bell’s name came up frequently.

Bell, driver of the No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota, had the best first lap of the original 16 playoff drivers. He was the only one to have all of the top-five finishes in the opening round — fifth in Darlington, SC, third in Kansas — before topping a season-high 143 laps for a fourth-place finish at Bristol last week. Round elimination race.

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“I think Bell has shown in the playoffs so far that he’s really strong,” Larson said, adding, “but I don’t think you can pick a favorite until you get through this round, because whoever that is Favorite right now, it might just not make it to the next round just because this round is so wild.

“I think in three weeks you can choose a better one [championship] Favourite. But right now there are so many unknowns as to the madness that is about to happen.”

Larson’s Hendrick Motorsports teammate Alex Bowman agreed.

“There are a few guys who have been really consistent in the playoffs, but other than that I don’t think there is (an odd favorite),” Bowman said.

“Anybody can still do it and hopefully we’ll be by the end of the year, but it’s cool. I think this car has created a lot of parity at the moment. Different teams have different strengths at the moment, which is pretty cool to see. ”

BLANEY APPEAL EXPLAINS

The No. 12 Penske Racing team, with driver Ryan Blaney, was handed a hefty penalty – the four-week loss of its crew chief Jonathan Hassler and two key crew members – after an uncontrolled tire at Bristol Motor Speedway last weekend.

So the team has appealed the penalty and until NASCAR hears the Penske team’s arguments and makes a final decision, Blaney will have all of his regular teammates pit pit duty this weekend in Texas.

“I think it’s important to keep these guys for this week, we all know how important pit stops are here and how difficult it is to overtake and strategy will come into play,” Blaney said. “It’s good to have Jonathan in the pits and good to have these guys in the pits. It’s been good to keep these guys here for this week and we’ll see how the rest goes.”

Blaney will start his #12 Ford from 14th on the grid. He won the NASCAR All-Star Race in Texas earlier this year.

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TEAM SWAP

Denny Hamlin spoke about the news that he will be swapping pit crews with his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Kyle Busch – a move the team made ahead of Sunday’s race. Hamlin said two of the “new” pit crew members were on his team last year, so there’s a bit of familiarity.

“We don’t enter the box that differently, if you think about what might be the differences between me and Kyle, the way we enter the box is pretty similar, so I think it’s going to be pretty seamless for everyone should,” Hamlin said.

“It’s certainly tough for these guys (the pit crew he started the season with),” he continued. Certainly they are just as important to this championship run as anyone else.

“But we had to do something else. …that was kind of a JGR decision and they felt that was the best way to get the quickest results in the shortest amount of time by simply replacing an entire team rather than one person or another.”

LARSON’S MOMENT

Larson has celebrated victories in every form of racing he has competed in, even lifting the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series championship trophy. But the 30-year-old Californian’s face lit up as he spoke about the special call he received from one of his racing heroes, three-time Indy 500 winner and longtime Fort Worth resident Johnny Rutherford.

Rutherford called Larson this week hoping to meet up while the NASCAR Cup Series was competing at Texas Motor Speedway. Larson, who has been attending Christopher Bell’s micro-sprint event “C Bell’s Micro Mania” all week, said he received Rutherford’s voicemail and looks forward to seeing him in person this weekend.

“He left me a voicemail and the first thing I did was I copied the voicemail and sent it to my father and (the PR rep) Jon Edwards,” Larson said, smiling.

“It was super cool that Johnny Rutherford got my number and wanted my autograph. So that was pretty nice and I look forward to meeting him here this weekend and getting another photo op.”





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