The clouds might have been above the track, but no cloud could ruin a pole run for “Bad Brad.”
Brad Keselowski has won the pole for the FedEx 400 at the Dover International Speedway. Keselowski’s time of 21.892 set the track record at Dover as he was the first car to go on track in the final round of qualifying.
The pole award marks the fifth time that Keselowski will lead the field to the green flag in what will be his 174th career start in NASCAR’s premier division. With the new qualifying format, Keselowski’s average starting position was 6.8 with seven front row starts in 12 races, and the 11th front row start for Team Penske between Joey Logano and he.
"I don't know if it is any different from last year. At this time last year, we were very similar in the standings and in laps led. We just didn't have the finishes other than the one win, but we are qualifying better," Keselowski said.
"I think the cars are built a lot differently than they were last year, and I think Ford has done a great job catching up with the front nose piece that kind of put us behind when the Gen Six car came out. I don't think we were far off before, we just needed those little pieces that were kind of outside of our control."
Kevin Harvick, along with Logano, went out a second time, but was not able to improve on old tires. Harvick will start eighth on Sunday at Dover, and it is the seventh straight weekend where he will start 11th or better.
Kyle Busch set the initial track record of the day in the first round with a time of 21.898 seconds at 164.399 mph, but was not able to duplicate his lap in the second round, coming just short of Keselowski’s time to start on the outside pole.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. barely missed the cut as A.J. Allmendinger knocked him out of the top-12 with a minute remaining in round one. Earnhardt Jr. went back on track along with Marcos Ambrose and Kurt Busch, but none of them were able to advance to the second and final round of qualifying.
After qualifying was completed, Busch said he came up just a little short of the pole as he got loose in between turns three and four.
Brett Moffitt, making his Sprint Cup Series debut for Identity Ventures Racing, will start 18th on Sunday at Dover. Moffitt, 21, has just one prior start in the Nationwide Series and two in the Camping World Truck Series. However, he is a two-time winner in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East at Dover, and is replacing Joe Nemechek in the No. 66 Toyota this weekend.
Here are some notables from qualifying:
- Carl Edwards will start 29th after being sixth in first practice.
- Tony Stewart will start 20th in the No. 14 car. Stewart is the reigning winner of this event and has not won a race since.
- Kyle Larson was the highest qualifying rookie in fifth.
- Kurt Busch will start 24th after being 20th in first practice.
It has been a roller coaster start for Roush-Fenway Racing in 2014. Carl Edwards has been running consistently in the top-10, but the team’s other two cars in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series have been mediocre, something that RFR is not accustomed to.
Throughout the past, the organization has been strong on the intermediate tracks, but there has been a lack of performance by each of the three Sprint Cup Series cars owned by Jack Roush and John Henry. Greg Biffle and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. are 11th and 25th in the points standings, respectively. However, Edwards is third in points after gambling his way to a top-five at Charlotte.
“We have to get faster. There are a couple of teams that are really on the ball right now like the Stewart-Haas guys and Hendrick. We just need to find the raw speed. We have the pit stops, strategy and all of those things that we need to have down pretty well,” Edwards said in an exclusive interview inside the No. 99 hauler after first practice on Friday afternoon.
With speculation that Edwards and Biffle might leave RFR, Edwards has been able to keep his focus solely on racing, all the while dealing with rumors swirling around the NASCAR garage area. Some say Edwards will leave, others say he will stay. But all that doesn’t matter as he is just focused on doing his job – similar to Matt Kenseth in 2012 and Kevin Harvick last season.
The new aero package which NASCAR introduced over the off-season appears to be putting RFR behind, and Edwards understands that. However, with a win at Bristol, Edwards can afford to take more risks, especially since he is amongst the class of the field on a weekly basis. Besides leading 78 laps en route to his win at Bristol, Edwards has led just 26 markers this year, showing RFR still has some improvements they need to make.
“Yeah, absolutely (we can take risks). We can be a little less cautious, have some more fun. For instance, last weekend (the Coca-Cola 600) is a good example,” Edwards said. “We stretched the fuel to have a chance to win the race and if we were points racing, we might not have done that. We have a chance to win this race on Sunday and on the final restart, we really don’t have much to lose by trying to be aggressive.”
Even with some inconsistency this season, Edwards has been able to make improvements from a 2013 season in which he finished 13th in points. Along with the new aero package, Edwards believes the qualifying format has slightly hurt the entire RFR team.
“The most difficult part of the new qualifying format is that if you barely miss the cut, you have to go out with mad panic to try to make the next round. If you try to run a faster lap on older tires, it is really hectic. I hope it is entertaining because it is more fun than the old qualifying.”
Jimmie Johnson is the all-time wins leader at Dover International Raceway with eight trophies. The driver of the No. 48 Chevrolet is coming off of a victory at the Charlotte Motor Speedway, and is looking to lock up his ninth career victory at the Monster Mile.
Johnson, 38, has all but owned Dover since he swept both races at the Delaware track in his rookie year. He has led at least one lap at Dover in all but five of the 24 times he has taken the green flag at the high-banked oval. He has recorded all but of Hendrick Motortsports' 14 wins at Dover.
But what is so vexing about Johnson’s success at Dover?
With Chad Knaus at the helm, Johnson has been able to tame the “monster” no matter what body NASCAR has thrown onto the cars. Whether it was the Generation Four vehicle or the Generation Six – Johnson’s dominance has been a never ending train ride which has helped propel him to the top of the Sprint Cup Series. Even though NASCAR has changed up the aero package from last season, Johnson believes he is going to be a contender once again, and he proved that by putting up a solid lap time during first practice on Friday morning.
“There’s a sensation that I look for, especially at this track. We all have a certain sensation that we look for. It’s just you need to find the speed that fits the track, and it has worked well for me, for Chad and the team. It has just been a really strong track for us,” Johnson said.
“ I just pay attention to what I am looking for, what we are able to work through and whatever challenges are thrown at us. There are different tire combinations and different generations of the car, and this is still the Gen Six car, but there is a different rules package for it. Regardless of change, there are just some tracks that you know what you are looking for.”
Ron Hornaday Jr. is currently fifth in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series points standings. However, the 56-year-old veteran has yet to lock up a deal with Turner Scott Motorsports to run the entire season.
Initially, Hornaday signed on with TSM for multiple races this season, but Rheem has been satisfied with his performances through four races this year. The four-time Camping World Truck Series champion enters Dover with three top-10s and 62 laps led so far this year.
After speaking with Hornaday on Friday morning, Speedway Digest has learned that Hornaday might not run the full season. As he nears the end of his career, Hornaday is still making a push for the coveted Truck Series title, even while trying to get funding. Hornaday told us that it is all up to Steve Turner at this point as well as Rheem. If they feel he is capable of running for the title, he will continue to be entered in the No. 30 Chevrolet on a weekly basis.
Entering Dover, Hornaday has 51 Camping World Truck Series victories along with 227 top-10s in 348 starts.
The NASCAR Nationwide Series is back at the Dover International Speedway this weekend for the 33rd running Buckle Up 200 presented by Click It or Ticket. Joey Logano has dominated the past four Nationwide Series events at the Monster Mile. However, Logano has yet to win in NASCAR’s second-tier division in multiple starts this year as he has been enjoying success in the Sprint Cup Series with Team Penske.
If anyone will stop Logano’s dominance at Dover, it will occur this weekend. The Nationwide Series regulars have won nearly half of the events this season, and a track such as Dover falls into the hands of some younger drivers which often race well at the shorter tracks.
Regan Smith enters Dover with the points lead after 11 events in the Nationwide Series in 2014. After winning at Daytona to start off the year, Smith has been extremely consistent – finishing inside of the top-10 during each race this season. However, he has not led at any tracks this season other than the two restrictor plate races. In eight starts at Dover in Nationwide Series competition, Smith has recorded one top-10 finish.
“We just need to put ourselves in situations to get up front and lead laps. We are not lacking that much really. I think all three of our cars are capable of winning. Chase has two intermediate wins, and as you said – we have been top-10 all season long. It is just the little stuff. Maybe we need a better pit stop here or an adjustment there, or maybe a little better qualifying at some places,” Smith said. “I think in the first five/six races, we were really learning each other. We really had some struggles with the No. 7 car in particular. Around Darlington, we really started making a turn, getting better each week.”
Kyle Busch will be attempting to score his third victory of the season this weekend, and his fourth win at Dover in what will be his 18th career start at the track. Busch has finished inside of the top-five at each race he has been entered in this year, and is looking to score his 66th career Nationwide Series victory. Busch’s teammate, Matt Kenseth, is also racing in the Nationwide Series for Joe Gibbs Racing. This will be Kenseth’s ninth start of the 2014 season, but he has been winless this year, albeit leading 253 laps.
“There’s always the argument being made that there are certain tracks where it is nice to get extra track time. It’s good at a track that you go to once a year and take two tires or something like that. It’s nice to get some extra time,” Kenseth said on how running the Nationwide Series races effects his Cup Series effort.
There are 40 drivers entered in the Nationwide Series event this weekend. Paulie Harraka is making his first start for TriStar Motorsports in the No. 44 Toyota. Todd Bodine returns to the Nationwide Series for his second start of the year in the No. 55 Chevrolet. Joe Nemechek will not be racing in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series event this weekend, but is making his fifth Nationwide Series start of the year for his self-owned NEMCO Motorsports team. Morgan Shepherd is making his return to the Nationwide Series as well this weekend. Shepherd, 72, will make his 352nd career start in NASCAR’s second-tier division after resetting his previous record of being the oldest driver to start a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series event at Phoenix earlier this year.
The Buckle Up 200 presented by Click It or Ticket starts at 2 p.m. ET on Saturday afternoon.