Brad Keselowski won the pole for today’s Sprint Cup race at Dover International Speedway and has now qualified in the top five in 10 of 13 races this season. (Reuters)
DOVER, Del. — Seeing Brad Keselowski atop the speed charts in qualifying has become a common sight in 2014.
But no one had ever seen speeds at Dover International Speedway like the ones drivers, across the board, ran Friday in qualifying for today’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Fed Ex 400 Benefitting Autism Speaks.
Keselowski, a top-five qualifier for the 10th time in 13 races this season, earned his second Coors Light Pole of 2014. In doing so, he added more than 2.5 mph to the previous track record set by Dale Earnhardt Jr. last year.
Keselowski clocked 164.444 mph in his Team Penske Ford Fusion to edge the Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota of Kyle Busch (163.785) and his Penske teammate Joey Logano (163.888).
It took record-breaking speed to even be in the hunt for the pole. The first 24 cars in the 30-minute knockout round of qualifying each broke the old mark of 161.840 mph set last Sept. 29.
Earnhardt posted Friday’s 13th-fastest lap, broke his old record by more than a second (162.933) and still missed the opportunity to qualify for the pole in the second and final round.
“The cars are built a lot differently than they were last year,” said Keselowski, who has one victory under his belt this season (Las Vegas) and a win and four top-10 finishes in eight previous starts at Dover.
“Ford has done a great job catching up (thanks in large part) to the front nose piece. They kind of got left behind on that one. Then, when the Gen-6 car came out, we were allowed to catch up for 2014.”
Like Keselowski, Logano has been a threat in qualifying all season. Earning a spot on the front row four times. He placed in the top 10 for the ninth time in 13 races.
Keselowski, currently ninth in the Cup point standings, says the biggest reason all manufacturers are running faster in qualifying is added downforce.
“The bigger rear spoiler and the ride height rule (have made the most difference),” he said. “The bigger spoiler adds a significant amount. There’s also a different front belly pan. The cars make more grip by a long shot than what they ever have … 2,600-2,800 pounds of downforce last year to about 3,200 now. That’s a significant increase.”
Busch actually ran the fastest lap of the day, clocking 166.297 mph in practice, when 29 cars exceeded the track record before the track warmed in the afternoon sun.
“Our car was really good in practice,” Busch said. “We weren’t quite able to get the speed we wanted in qualifying. I don’t think anybody really did. Overall, we slowed down a little more than others, I guess. I’m really happy with our M&M Camry in race trim, so I think we’ll be good for the race (today).”
Jimmie Johnson (163.262) was fourth with the fastest-qualifying Chevrolet. Kyle Larson was the top-qualifying rookie, finishing fifth at 163.080, one spot ahead of series points leader Jeff Gordon, who became the first driver to circle Dover with a qualifying time of less than 22 seconds (21.98).
Greg Biffle was Friday’s first to shatter the track record but barely hung on to reach the second round of qualifying, ranking 11th among 12 qualifiers. He was no threat for the pole during the final 10-minute session.
“We started out really good on a green track,” Biffle said. “But as it rubbered up, we got slower.”
With 43 drivers qualifying for 43 spots, none were sent home on Friday.