RICHMOND, Va. — In a battle of late qualifiers at Richmond Raceway, Brad Keselowski knocked Kevin Harvick off the pole for Saturday night’s Federated Auto Parts 400 to claim the top starting spot for the second race in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs (7:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).
The 36th of 38 drivers to make a qualifying run, Keselowski covered the .75-mile distance in 21.229 seconds (127.185 mph) to beat Harvick (126.559 mph) by .105 seconds. The Busch Pole Award was Keselowski’s third this season, his second at Richmond and the 17th of his career.
When Keselowski qualified first at Richmond in the fall of 2014, he also won the race. On Friday, he was fastest in time trials without the benefit of a mock qualifying run during practice earlier in the day.
“It was really good,” Keselowski said. “We didn’t do a qualifying run in practice, but we’ve had phenomenal short-run speed here.
“The last two or three years here, we haven’t necessarily qualified all that well here, but when the race comes, and we get the short runs, we could really make some steam, and it showed that here in qualifying.
“I hope we have the long-run speed — I think there’s going to be a lot of long runs in the race, but certainly qualifying up front, getting the first pit stall, all those things that go with it are great for our chances tomorrow. Really excited to get our third pole of the year. Last year we didn’t have a pole, and this year we’ve got three, so I’m really proud of my team, and great effort for us.”
Harvick, the 33rd driver to make a qualifying attempt, felt he left some speed on the table.
“I knew when I came in, I’m like ‘Ooh, man, I didn’t get anywhere close to getting everything out of that lap,’ especially in (Turns) 1 and 2 — or 3 and 4,” said Harvick who, like Keselowski, did not make a qualifying run in practice. “I just kind of cruised along the bottom and just didn’t push the car hard enough.”
Chase Elliott (126.194 mph) qualified third, followed by Kyle Busch (126.103 mph) and Clint Bowyer (126.068 mph), as playoff drivers grabbed the top nine starting spots. Denny Hamlin, Aric Almirola, Martin Truex Jr. and Kurt Busch will start sixth through ninth, respectively, with non-playoff driver Jimmie Johnson securing the 10th position.
Other playoff drivers will start as follows: Kyle Larson 13th, Ryan Blaney 15th, Erik Jones 16th, Ryan Newman 19th, Alex Bowman 20th, William Byron 25th and Joey Logano 28th.