Richmond Record Lap for Kenseth

Matt Kenseth

“It was one of our goals this weekend to come here and sit on the pole and kind of quiet down at least part of the noise." (Photo: Getty Images)

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RICHMOND, Va. - Only days after NASCAR gave his team one of the most severe penalties in recent years and at a track he had never started better than seventh, it was only natural that Matt Kenseth won the pole with a track-record lap.

Admit it, you expected this. Didn’t you?

Kenseth will lead the field to the green flag for Saturday night’s Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond International Raceway after he posted a qualifying lap of 130.334 mph. Brian Vickers, driving Denny Hamlin’s car and a teammate to Kenseth, starts second after a lap of 130.303 mph. Hendrick Motorsports teammates Jeff Gordon and Kasey Kahne start third and fourth with Clint Bowyer completing the top five. Juan Pablo Montoya will start a season-best sixth.

Kenseth has never started better than seventh at Richmond in 26 previous races but that didn’t deter him. He and his team also had something to prove. NASCAR punished Kenseth, Joe Gibbs Racing and Toyota Racing Development after a connecting rod in Kenseth’s race-winning engine last weekend at Kansas Speedway was found to be below the minimum weight.

“It was one of our goals this weekend to come here and sit on the pole and kind of quiet down at least part of the noise,’’ Kenseth said.

By winning the pole, Kenseth is back in next year’s Sprint Unlimited at Daytona International Speedway. Part of the penalties announced this week included his Kansas pole not qualifying him for the exhibition race for pole-sitters.

Gordon wasn’t surprised with Kenseth’s qualifying effort.

“Sometimes you take it upon yourself as a team to just push a little bit harder, just do a little more,’’ Gordon said. “Sometimes you don’t know that you have that in you, but it’s amazing in that moment you can find that little bit more.

“I think we’ve seen it in Brad (Keselowski) as well with the No. 2 team and that fight. Sometimes it tears you apart and tears you down and sometimes it lifts you up and makes you stronger and makes you fight harder. The thing is Matt and his team, they’re a rock-solid team and they’ve been showing it this whole year. Whatever happened this past weekend is not going to affect how those guys perform going forward.’’

Kenseth’s success also kept Vickers from keeping the track record, beating him by five-thousandths of a second. Vickers held the previous record at 129.983 mph, set in 2004.

“To lose the track record on top of it, was just a double whammy,’’ Vickers said.

Vickers didn’t know until this week he would drive in this weekend’s Sprint Cup race until doctors would not clear Hamlin to drive. Hamlin said this week he anticipates starting next weekend at Talladega Superspeedway before being relieved.

“It was kind of a difficult week, being in Denny’s position before,’’ Vickers said. “I know he’s dying to get back, I was pulling for him to get back in the car.’’

Motor Racing Network will air live coverage of Saturday's Toyota Owners 400 starting at 6:30 p.m. (ET), with live streaming at MotorRacingNetwork.com. Kyle Busch is the defending winner. The MRN broadcast will be anchored by Barney Hall, Joe Moore and Jeff Striegle.

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