Keselowski First 'Knockout' Pole Winner
By: Dustin Long - @dustinlong on February 28, 2014 | 7:36 P.M. EST
Keselowski won the pole for Sunday’s The Profit on CNBC 500 with a track record lap of 139.384 mph. (Photo: Getty Images)
AVONDALE, Ariz. - Brad Keselowski celebrated his historic Sprint Cup pole, the first using NASCAR’s knockout format, talking not about the experience but about the fans.
“I’m more curious the feedback we get from our fans,’’ he said. “At the end of the day it’s not about whether I like it, it’s about whether they liked it.’’
Keselowski won the pole for Sunday’s The Profit on CNBC 500 with a track-record lap of 139.384 mph at Phoenix International Raceway. Keselowski’s teammate, Joey Logano, joins him on the front row.
Friday’s qualifying featured a little bit of everything. There was a dash when the opening 30-minute session started - Keselowski was among those on the track early. Others, including Dale Earnhardt Jr., who posted the fastest lap in practice, waited about halfway through the session before going on track.
Once drivers made a run, they returned to the pits, had the tape removed from their front grille and went back to the track, running at slower speeds to help cool the engine. While top lap times were 25 seconds, many drivers ran laps at about 60 seconds to help cool his motor.
The opening session also featured a crash with Justin Allgaier backing into the wall. His incident left some teams muttering on their radio about the incident disrupting their fast lap. Allgaier had to go to a backup car.
The biggest concern raised by drivers, though, was the difference in speed of cars on the track with some cooling their engines.
“Cooling is dumb,’’ said Kevin Harvick, who was bumped out of a chance at the final round and starts 13th. “They need to let everybody cool their cars down so you don’t have those cars running half speed out there. We’ve been telling them that for weeks. The (qualifying) concept is really cool, but they need to let you cool the cars down. One of these times somebody is going to get clobbered in the back.’’
Jimmie Johnson, who starts fourth, says “we’ve been jumping up and down for a while” to NASCAR about allowing teams to cool the engines on pit road instead of on the track.
“We all understand what NASCAR is trying to do, and I’m confident that if there is a problem they’ll make some changes,’’ Johnson said.
Robin Pemberton, vice president of competition, said that NASCAR does not allow teams to use cooling units on pit road because series officials don’t want teams opening the hood. NASCAR wants to limit the amount of adjustments teams can do on pit road during the qualifying session.
Pemberton said reaction afterward was mixed among competitors about if to allow teams to cool engines on pit road road.
“We’ll continue to talk to the drivers and teams and solicit feedback and how, if anything, we can improve,’’ Pemberton said.
The format featured a 30-minute session where the top 12 advanced to a 10-minute round that determined the pole.
Earnhardt bumped Clint Bowyer out of the top 12 with about five minutes left in the opening session. Denny Hamlin bumped Harvick with less than three minutes left.
In the final round, Keselowski grabbed the pole about halfway through the session.
“It feels like a lot of things are coming together for me personally over the last few months,’’ Keselowski said after his fourth career Cup pole. “Whether it is personally or professionally - even the rule changes. I think qualifying has been one of those formats that I have struggled with. It just didn’t suit my style in the past.
“This qualifying format really does suit my style a lot better. It gives me a chance to learn and apply, which to me was instrumental to our success.”
Jamie McMurray also had a good day. He was the biggest gainer. McMurray was 10th after the opening round but qualified third in the final round. Johnson and Earnhardt complete the top five.
Earnhardt called his fast lap in practice a surprise.
He was 24th after his first run in the first qualifying session and made the top 12 on his second run.
“If you aint’ got it in two runs, I don’t think you’re ever going to to get it.’’ Earnhardt said of having enough speed to make the final round.
Morgan Shepherd, who is 72 years old, extended his record for oldest starter in a Cup race. Shepherd, more than 6 mph slower than the next slowest car, made the race on a provisional.
Failing to qualify were Josh Wise, Dave Blaney and Landon Cassill, who finished a career-high tying 12th in last week’s Daytona 500.