Team Penske Sweeps the Front Row in Pocono
After Joey Logano was quickest in the first two rounds of qualifying, his teammate Brad Keselowski took the final round en route to his first pole of 2016 and first pole at Pocono Raceway. His previous best qualifying results at the "Tricky Triangle" were a pair of third-place efforts in 2014.
It was a speed of 181.726 mph that claimed the top spot. Logano ran a speed of 181.400 mph, nearly a tenth of a second off the pole-winning time.
"It was a really solid effort for Team Penske," Keselowski said. "To get 1-2 is hard to do, but we had great speed today. I wasn't really sure what to expect with the rain and all of the other variables that were thrown at us with no practice."
The last seven times that Keselowski has started on pole, he has finished in the top 10 each time with two victories.
After Logano, it was August winner Matt Kenseth who placed third at 181.316 mph. Kevin Harvick had the fourth best time at 181.192 mph and Carl Edwards rounded out the top five at 180.759 mph.
"I didn't do a very good job today," Harvick said of his fourth-place effort. "The car was a lot faster than the driver today. The guys did a job preparing a good job, but I wasn't in a good rhythm and didn't do a good job in any of the rounds to get everything out of the car that I needed to."
Tony Stewart will start sixth in his best qualifying effort since Michigan last August when he began that 400-mile race fifth.
Jimmie Johnson will start seventh, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. eighth, Kurt Busch ninth and Denny Hamlin rounded out the top 10.
Chase Elliott is the highest starting rookie in 13th with Rookie of the Year contender Ryan Blaney alongside in 14th.
The defending race winner, Martin Truex, Jr. posted the 17th quickest time in qualifying. The No. 78 team feels that they missed the setup completely and thought the track was going to be something different. It took them two tries to get through the first round, which put more laps on their tires, hurting the speed in Round Two.
"We just totally missed it off the trailer, which is unusual for our team," Truex said. "We were way off our first run in practice and had so many different ideas about what it might have been. It felt so bad that it felt like the tires were wrong or we had a bad set."
Final practice is set to begin at 11:30 on Saturday weather depending. It will be the only time that the teams will be able to practice on race trim because no driver completed more than seven laps in the opening practice on Friday.
Brad Keselowski FIghts for Solid Finish in Dover
Keselowski was out front for the previous 49 laps, before being passed by Larson. Once he was passed, the 2012 Cup Series champion was trying to find a lane on the track that would close the gap between the No. 42 car and he.
However, on the backstretch, making a move underneath the No. 3 car, he made slight contact, ripping the entire right front fender off the machine. The damage caused crew chief Paul Wolfe to make heavy repairs with bare bond and any tool possible to make the car competitive.
Staying on the lead lap, Keselowski fell back to 24th, needing a miracle to happen to regain track position.
"That was one of those Dover races that I don't think anyone will forget any time soon," Keselowski said post-race. "We ran really well and unfortunately got caught up while running second and leading a lot of laps. It knocked a lot of speed out of our Wurth Ford, but still competitive. I'm really proud of my guys to finish sixth."
With all the chaos that was Dover, when the checkered flag flew the No. 2 car was the highest finishing Ford.
In a race that saw 12 cautions, the Team Penske crew had the fortune of missing the majority of the big incidents. Keselowski was able to steadily work his way back through the field in the last quarter of the race to capture his fifth career top-10 result at Dover.
"We caught some breaks with that big wreck it probably gave us five or six spots," Keselowski elaborated. "We kind of crawled from there. We restarted ninth and drove up to sixth so that's very respectable."
Through 12 events, Keselowski has two victories, more than all of last year. On Sunday, the No. 2 crew showed that the never give up attitude is a motto that the team has installed.
Matt Kenseth Tames the Monster in Dover
The No. 20 car took the lead after a big crash with 46 laps to go involving 10-time Dover winner, Jimmie Johnson. From there the crafty veteran didn't look back as he led the final the remaining laps and stamped his name into the Chase.
"At time we were on and at times we were off," Kenseth said after his victory. "It just kind of depended on track position. We had one good where we were really good and then we never quite got it there again. It was one of those days where everything lined up for us at the end of the race and we were the only one left out there with two [tires]. We got a couple short runs to cycle everyone else's tires."
This is Kenseth's third win at the Monster Mile and his first triumph since the second Chase race in 2015. Joe Gibbs Racing recorded its 135th win as an organization, tying Roush Fenway Racing for third most all-time.
After going a lap down in the first long stint of the event, Kyle Larson rebounded to lead 85 laps, coming up just short of his first career victory. Going back to last week in Kansas, Larson has ran in the top five the majority of both races. Acknowledging that Chip Ganassi Racing has struggled over the last season or so, he believes that the team has begun to turn the corner.
"I wouldn't say it was a complete 180," Larson said post-race. "I definitely think we are moving in the right direction. The performances we've has the last few weeks have showed. We just got to keep working hard and never get content with where we are. In my third year I've learned that a lot."
With the second-place finish, Larson has now been the runner-up four times in his Cup career without heading to Victory Lane.
For a while it looked like Chase Elliott was going to pass both Kenseth and Larson as they raced hard for the victory. He began to fade in the later stages, but then rebounded to finish a half-second off the top two. The way that the 20-year-old has ran the past month or so it would seem like a victory is right around the corner.
"You hope your close," Elliott said. "For me I feel like I have a team capable of winning. The way I see it today is we had our shot and had a chance to do it today and I didn't do it. It's as simple as that, you either do or you don't."
Recording another top-10 finish for the No. 24 team, Elliott now leads Hendrick Motorsports in top 10 finishes in 2016 with eight.
Kasey Kahne rebounded from a car in which hovered around 10th for the majority of the race to finish fourth. It marks his second top-five finish of the year, the other coming at Richmond three weeks ago. Kurt Busch rounded out the top five, picking up his fourth of 2016.
On Lap 354, the race took a turn when Johnson's car got stuck in gear. The No. 48 machine was the leader on a restart when there was more than a 10-car pileup. Other drivers in the incident included Kevin Harvick whom led 117 laps early in the race, but finished 15th and Martin Truex, Jr. who was the leader prior to that restart, but after taking four tires under caution restarted fourth, right behind the six-time champion. The No. 78 car came back to finish ninth.
Brad Keselowski finished sixth after having contact with Austin Dillon while running in second on Lap 282. Having to repair the entire right front fender, the No. 2 crew fought back to get it's seventh top 10 of the season.
One of the bigger incidents of the time came with 40 laps to go when Larson tagged the left rear of Carl Edwards sending him into the inside wall on the backstretch. Up to that point of the race, the No. 19 car had been out front for 27 laps, but came home 28th.
The Cup Series heads into it's All-Star break next week in Charlotte. Through the first 12 events, Harvick has a 21 point lead on Kyle Busch.
In a day that was filled with hard racing, big crashes and barrel rolls, Brad Keselowski came out victorious in Talladega.
Arguably, Keselowski had the strongest racecar on Sunday leading a race-high 46 laps. After a mid-race pit stop that forced his hand and go toward the rear of the top 10 the last 20 laps, the No. 2 car established itself as the one to beat.
“This Fusion was hauling,” Keselowski said. “That’s one of the tickets of staying out of the wrecks at Talladega is if you can stay up front, you have a great shot of not getting in a wreck. Daytona didn’t go the way we wanted it to go. We just didn’t have the speed, but the guys went to work and brought me a really strong car here for Talladega.”
This is Keselowski’s fourth-career win at NASCAR’s biggest track, the most he has at any one track.
After leading 12 laps early on, Kyle Busch came home second. He was getting a huge shove coming to the white flag, but Keselowski blocked, settling the No. 18 car for the runner-up position.
Austin Dillon posted a career best third-place finish after making 15 pit stops throughout the day. Just passed halfway, David Gilliland got into the rear of the No. 3 machine turning him into the outside causing the first big crash of the day that saw rookie Chris Buescher flip multiple times.
“What we’ve really been focused on going forward is trying not to panic,” Dillon said of his day. “They fixed the car and what a run to the finish. Our car probably wasn’t good enough to really win the race, but it was good enough for the No. 1 to push me all the way through [Turns] 3 and 4.”
Jamie McMurray notched his best finish of 2016 with a fourth-place result. The former winner at Talladega never led, but pushed several cars to the lead throughout the 500 miles.
Pole-sitter Chase Elliott led 27 laps and notched his third top-five finish of the young season. After leading much of the opening stint of the event, the No. 24 car fell back throughout the day, but came on strong in the final three laps.
“You can’t have a good day unless you finish,” Elliott said. “I think it was just focusing in on that and obviously it got really wild and for us we tried to keep that in mind to try and make it to the end.”
Tony Stewart was credited with a sixth-place finish, though Ty Dillon drove the No. 14 Chevrolet to the checkered flag. After the first caution on Lap 50, the XFINITY Series regular replaced the three-time Cup Series champion behind the wheel.
The Cup veteran admitted that “it sucked” having to get out of the racecar, but it was part of the deal to get him back in the car last weekend in Richmond.
Clint Bowyer, Landon Cassill, Michael Waltrip, Cole Whitt, Bobby Labonte and the aforementioned Gilliland all posted season best finishes on Sunday.
The biggest incident of the afternoon came with 28 laps to go when Kurt Busch got into the rear of Jimmie Johnson spinning him into the wall, causing a 17 car crash. Daytona 500 winner, Denny Hamlin was one of the drivers involved in the accident.
With eight laps to go Michael McDowell, spun Danica Patrick, clipping the side of Matt Kenseth’s machine and causing him to flip into the inside fence. The No. 20 car was one of the strongest racecars throughout the day leading 39 laps, finishing a disappointing 23rd.
Coming to the checkered flag was the last crash that saw 2014 Sprint Cup champion Kevin Harvick get airborne, hitting the outside retaining wall. Eight cars came across the checkered flag with damage due to this incident.
Dale Earnhardt, Jr. Carl Edwards and Kasey Kahne all finished toward the rear with each driver had multiple problems at the 2.66-mile track.
In all, 33 out of the 40 cars received some kind of damage throughout the wildest race of the season to date.
The Cup Series will head to the Midwest for some night racing next Saturday in Kansas, with Johnson the defending winner. It was the controversy in the fall that led to the Kenseth and Joey Logano drama that saw its latest chapter on Sunday when the No. 22 car forced the No. 20 Toyota below the yellow line.
After the event had concluded Kenseth pointed his finger out of displeasure at Logano, where the 25-year-old shrugged his shoulders and chuckled.
Denny Hamlin Quickest in Opening Practice at Bristol
With just under 10 minutes remaining in Sprint Cup Series opening practice at Bristol, Denny Hamlin laid down a lap at 128.666 mph, shooting him to the top of the speed chart.
At a track that is a half-mile in length, Hamlin’s time lap time was 14.913 seconds. The top four all posted laps under 15 seconds as practice dwindled to a close.
In the last five races at Bristol, the No. 11 car has sat on the pole three times, including the night race last August, the last time NASCAR visited the world’s fastest half-mile.
After dominating last week in Texas, Martin Truex, Jr. was second fasest on the leader board at 128.399 mph, .031 seconds behind Hamlin.
Two-time Bristol winner, Brad Keselowski was third on the chart at 128.374. Jimmie Johnson posted a lap at 128.176 mph. and Jamie McMurray rounded out the top five at 127.767 mph.
With qualifying being so important at Bristol, the first 17 cars were within two-tenths of a second of the top time. Notable drivers under that mark was August winner Joey Logano in 19th and Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. who has two career top five finishes at this track in 26th.
Casey Mears was the fastest of the drivers who made a 10 lap run as well as running 43 laps, the most of all drivers in the hour-and-a-half session.
Qualifying will get underway at 3:30 p.m. Friday afternoon. Matt Kenseth is the defending pole-sitter and winner of the spring race in Bristol.