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“So at that rate it will only take me 49 more weeks to catch him.”

Keselowski qualified 20th.

“Qualifying hasn’t been our strong suit this year,” Keselowski said. “We haven’t been able to get the bounce. But in the races we’ve been fast and I’ll take a good car in a race over qualifying any day.”

Ryan Newman will start third, while Clint Bowyer is fourth and Jimmie Johnson, who traditionally runs well at Charlotte, will start fifth. Martin Truex Jr. Matt Kenseth, Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin and Kasey Kahne completed the top 10.

Jeff Gordon, who has finished second or third in six of the last seven races, qualified 13th. He vowed to breakdance in the victory circle if he wins Saturday night.

This weekend’s Sprint Cup race will be the first since Sept. 3, 1979, that will not include an Earnhardt in the field. Earnhardt’s father, seven-time NASCAR champion Dale Earnhardt, was killed on the last lap of the 2001 Daytona 500.

Earnhardt opened the Chase as a strong contender to win his first Sprint Cup title.

However, missing the next two races ends that opportunity, which had become a longshot anyway after the Talladega crash dropped him to 11th in the Chase standings.

It also ends Earnhardt’s streak of 461 consecutive starts, which is the fifth longest active streak in the Sprint Cup Series.

“I would love to race this weekend, and I feel perfectly normal and feel like I could compete if I were allowed to compete,” Earnhardt said earlier in the day. “But I think that the basis of this whole deal is that I’ve had two concussions in the last (six) weeks, and you can’t layer concussions.

“It gets extremely dangerous,” he said.

AJ Allmendinger qualified 38th in his first action since being suspended July 7 for failing a random drug test.

“I’m a little nervous, trying to get back into the flow of things,” Allmendinger said. “I don’t expect to set the world on fire. I’m just trying to get used to it again, progress through the weekend, limit my mistakes, finish all 500 miles and wherever that puts us, it puts us.”

Phoenix Racing asked Allmendinger to drive the No. 51 Chevrolet this weekend as part of the domino effect from Earnhardt Jr. pulling out. Smith had planned to drive the No. 51, but then took over Earnhardt’s ride.