- Associated Press - Friday, September 5, 2014

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) - Brad Keselowski couldn’t have been happier with the way his Friday unfolded at Richmond International Raceway.

Keselowski ran a lap at 126.618 mph to win the pole for the NASCAR Sprint Cup race Saturday night and said he has set his sights on breaking a five-way tie for the series victory lead to gain an advantage in NASCAR’s playoffs.

The 16-driver field for the Chase for the championship will be finalized after the race

“It’d be nice to put up another win and be kind of the lead dog, so to speak,” said Keselowski, tied for the series victory lead at three with Jeff Gordon, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jimmie Johnson and Joey Logano.

The Penske Racing driver has never won at Richmond, but thinks he might be ready to change that.



“This is by far the best car I’ve had” in 11 visits to Richmond, he said. “I feel like we have a really strong shot at winning this weekend, so I’m very, very excited. Everybody says they’re excited, but when you are sitting on the pole, and fastest in practice, you have good reason to be excited.”

The pole also is his fourth of the season after he entered the year with three in his career. It also allows his to grab the first pit stall, giving him a clear path back onto the track after pit stops.

I think on the short tracks, the first pit stall is probably more important than anywhere else,” he said.

Gordon was a distant second at 126.039 mph, followed by Johnson, his Hendrick Motorsports teammate, at 125.898.

Kevin Harvick was fourth, and Logano five. The sixth-best qualifier - and first of the 17 drivers with a chance to win his way into the Chase for the championship - was Clint Bowyer, who also happens to consider the 0.75-mile oval his best track.

“We have nowhere to go but up,” Bowyer said. “I really do feel like we’re a top-five car for sure and anytime you’re a top-five car, with a little bit of adjusting, some help, some luck, whatever the case, you can win these races.”

Gordon and Johnson felt fortunate to fare so well after a difficult day.

“It’s been really stressful to be honest,” Johnson said of practice and qualifying, held in sunshine and 90-degree heat. The conditions bear little resemblance to what they will race on - a 7:30 p.m. start in cooler, different conditions.

“The hot conditions were making you slip and slide around,” Gordon said. “I’ll be honest. I’ve been confused most of the day. Even in qualifying I was sliding up the race track and running a groove I really didn’t want to be running. Yet we were fastest in the first round and second fastest in the second round and I’m sitting here baffled by it.”

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