Qualifying rained out: Keselowski on pole for Sunday’s Sprint Cup race

Brad Keselowski practices at Dover.

Brad Keselowski practices at Dover on Friday (Special to the Delaware State News/Doug Curran).

DOVER — A little bit of rain certainly didn’t dampen Brad Keselowski’s spirits at Dover International Speedway on Friday afternoon.

Pesky periods of precipitation kept the racetrack damp and eventually canceled qualifying for the Citizen Soldier 400 at Dover, putting Keselowski on the pole position for Sunday’s Sprint Cup race.

Brad Keselowski

Brad Keselowski

Keselowski claimed the No. 1 starting spot after the lineup was set by NASCAR based on the owners’ point standings in the Sprint Cup standings. Martin Truex Jr. will start alongside him on the front row.

Kyle Busch will line up in third while Matt Kenseth — who won at Dover in May — will take the green flag from the fourth position.

Keselowski, a 32-year-old driver from Rochester Hills, Mich., wasn’t about to offer any apologies after he was rewarded with the top starting spot on the drizzly day.

“It’s great,” said Keselowski, who pilots the No. 2 Miller Lite Ford. “My team guys were the first to tell me that we earned it because we’ve obviously been having a great season, maybe not with what we’ve done on track [Friday], but with what we’ve done throughout the course of the year in scoring a lot of points and winning races.

“It’s certainly still something to be very proud of to be this far into the season and be in the points lead – these are the perks you get when you’re in that position.”

The cancelation of qualifying, the third-consecutive race and eighth time overall it has been wiped out at Dover due to inclement weather, ensured that the first eight rows for Sunday’s main event will be comprised of the 16 drivers involved in the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship.

Dover marks the first elimination race in the Chase. Only the top 12 among the 16 drivers will remain title-eligible when the circuit leaves the Monster Mile following the Citizen Soldier 400.

Keselowski was actually just 19th quickest in Friday’s only practice for the Sprint Cup drivers. That didn’t discourage him when it comes to his chances to win on Sunday, even if it rains on today’s scheduled pair of practice sessions at 10:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m.

“We did two race runs and our second race run was, I thought, really stellar,” he said. “So I’m encouraged and I feel very positive to move on if we’re unable to get on the track anymore before Sunday’s race.”

Keselowski and Truex will be among the favorites to win Sunday’s race considering that 28 of the 93 (30.1 percent) of the Sprint Cup races at Dover have been won from the front row: 13 from the pole and 15 from second-place.

Truex, who drove to his first Sprint Cup win at Dover in 2007, grew up in Mayetta, N.J. He has always considered the Monster Mile to be his “home track.”

“There’s something special about this racetrack [Dover],” Truex said. “The first time I came here I fell in love with it. I enjoy the challenges of the all-concrete oval. The biggest hurdle is the bump in turn three. It’s always a challenge to get through that turn without being out of control.

“We want to win every single weekend, it doesn’t matter where we go. But Dover is special to me. It’s been a while since I won there and a victory heading into the second round of the Chase would give us added momentum.”

Among the biggest perks to Kesolowski’s starting first at Dover is that his race team gets its’ pick of pit stalls along the track’s narrow pit road. Keselowski’s Penske Racing team will almost certainly choose the one at the very end near the exit of the pits, which will allow him a clear path back onto the racetrack.

“Dover’s one of toughest pit roads we have,” Keselowski said. “It’s very narrow and you can lose a tremendous amount of track position under a caution period. This is a tricky pit road and you have to get everything right to maximize your day.”

Keselowski recorded his lone victory at Dover during the 2012 Chase and he went on to capture his first Sprint Cup championship.

Kyle Larson actually drove the quickest practice lap around Dover’s high-banked, one-mile oval in 21.742 seconds for an average speed of 165.578 mph during Friday’s practice.

However, after the rain forced the cancelation of qualifying at 4:08 p.m., he will start 12th. Larson finished runner-up to Kenseth in May and enters Sunday’s race in that precarious 12th spot in the point standings, five points ahead of his teammate Jamie McMurray and Austin Dillon.

“We always seem to run well at Dover, so that’s a positive,” Larson said. “I came close to winning earlier this year. There are probably things I could have done differently to get the win.

“Hopefully, our race car has even more speed than we had earlier in the year and I can get a win and advance.”

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