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NASCAR

Keselowski wins pole at New Hampshire

  • Brad Keselowski watches cars during qualifying for the NASCAR Sprint Cup auto race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon, N.H., Friday, July 12, 2013. Keselowski won the pole. (AP Photo/Cheryl Senter)

    Brad Keselowski watches cars during qualifying for the NASCAR Sprint Cup auto race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon, N.H., Friday, July 12, 2013. Keselowski won the pole. (AP Photo/Cheryl Senter)

  • Brad Keselowski waves to a few cheering fans in the stands after winning the pole during qualifying for the NASCAR Sprint Cup auto race on Friday, July 12, 2013, in Loudon, N.H.  (AP Photo/Mary Schwalm)

    Brad Keselowski waves to a few cheering fans in the stands after winning the pole during qualifying for the NASCAR Sprint Cup auto race on Friday, July 12, 2013, in Loudon, N.H. (AP Photo/Mary Schwalm)

  • Brad Keselowski rounds Turn 2 during practice for Sunday's NASCAR Sprint Cup auto race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, Friday, July 12, 2013, in Loudon, N.H. Keselowski went on to win the pole position during qualifying for Sunday's race. (AP Photo/Jim Cole)

    Brad Keselowski rounds Turn 2 during practice for Sunday's NASCAR Sprint Cup auto race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, Friday, July 12, 2013, in Loudon, N.H. Keselowski went on to win the pole position during qualifying for Sunday's race. (AP Photo/Jim Cole)

  • Brad Keselowski watches the timing board after his run at qualifying for Sunday's NASCAR Sprint Cup auto race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, Friday, July 12, 2013, in Loudon, N.H. Keselowski went on to win the pole position for Sunday's race. (AP Photo/Jim Cole)

    Brad Keselowski watches the timing board after his run at qualifying for Sunday's NASCAR Sprint Cup auto race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, Friday, July 12, 2013, in Loudon, N.H. Keselowski went on to win the pole position for Sunday's race. (AP Photo/Jim Cole)

  • Brad Keselowski rounds Turn 2 during practice for Sunday's NASCAR Sprint Cup auto race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, Friday, July 12, 2013, in Loudon, N.H. Keselowski went on to win the pole position during qualifying for Sunday's race. (AP Photo/Jim Cole)

    Brad Keselowski rounds Turn 2 during practice for Sunday's NASCAR Sprint Cup auto race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, Friday, July 12, 2013, in Loudon, N.H. Keselowski went on to win the pole position during qualifying for Sunday's race. (AP Photo/Jim Cole)

  • NASCAR driver Kevin Harvick smiles during a news conference before practice for the NASCAR New Hampshire Sprint Cup Series Camping World RV Sales 301 auto race, Friday, July 12, 2013 in Loudon, N.H. Harvick will take his Budweiser sponsorship with him when he moves to Stewart-Haas Racing next season. (AP Photo/Mary Schwalm)

    NASCAR driver Kevin Harvick smiles during a news conference before practice for the NASCAR New Hampshire Sprint Cup Series Camping World RV Sales 301 auto race, Friday, July 12, 2013 in Loudon, N.H. Harvick will take his Budweiser sponsorship with him when he moves to Stewart-Haas Racing next season. (AP Photo/Mary Schwalm)

  • Brooklyn Nets forward Kris Humphries in the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Indiana Pacers in Indianapolis, Friday, April 12, 2013.  (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

    Brooklyn Nets forward Kris Humphries in the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Indiana Pacers in Indianapolis, Friday, April 12, 2013. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

  • Brad Keselowski watches cars during qualifying for the NASCAR Sprint Cup auto race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon, N.H., Friday, July 12, 2013. Keselowski won the pole. (AP Photo/Cheryl Senter)
  • Brad Keselowski waves to a few cheering fans in the stands after winning the pole during qualifying for the NASCAR Sprint Cup auto race on Friday, July 12, 2013, in Loudon, N.H.  (AP Photo/Mary Schwalm)
  • Brad Keselowski rounds Turn 2 during practice for Sunday's NASCAR Sprint Cup auto race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, Friday, July 12, 2013, in Loudon, N.H. Keselowski went on to win the pole position during qualifying for Sunday's race. (AP Photo/Jim Cole)
  • Brad Keselowski watches the timing board after his run at qualifying for Sunday's NASCAR Sprint Cup auto race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, Friday, July 12, 2013, in Loudon, N.H. Keselowski went on to win the pole position for Sunday's race. (AP Photo/Jim Cole)
  • Brad Keselowski rounds Turn 2 during practice for Sunday's NASCAR Sprint Cup auto race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, Friday, July 12, 2013, in Loudon, N.H. Keselowski went on to win the pole position during qualifying for Sunday's race. (AP Photo/Jim Cole)
  • NASCAR driver Kevin Harvick smiles during a news conference before practice for the NASCAR New Hampshire Sprint Cup Series Camping World RV Sales 301 auto race, Friday, July 12, 2013 in Loudon, N.H. Harvick will take his Budweiser sponsorship with him when he moves to Stewart-Haas Racing next season. (AP Photo/Mary Schwalm)
  • Brooklyn Nets forward Kris Humphries in the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Indiana Pacers in Indianapolis, Friday, April 12, 2013.  (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

LOUDON — Brad Keselowski is back on top of NASCAR.

Well, for a race, at least.

But he’s quickly running out of time to make it back to the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship and defend his series championship.

His first pole of the season might give his season the boost he needs to become a contender. Keselowski turned a lap of 135.922 mph yesterday to set a track record at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

Keselowski won only his third career pole and first since 2011. With eight races left until the 12-driver Chase field is set, Keselowski is winless and sitting in an uncomfortable 13th place in the points standings.

“There is a sense of urgency but not a sense of panic,” Keselowski said. “I think there is a strong difference between the two. We are eager to get going, we are hungry and feel like we can do it but I don’t feel a sense of panic. There are still two months of racing essentially to get into the Chase.”

Keselowski led a fast day at the track as nine drivers topped the previous track record held by Ryan Newman, who went 135.232 in 2011.

Ten drivers topped that lap until points leader Jimmie Johnson’s second-fastest qualifying time was scrapped after his car failed inspection. His No. 48 Chevrolet, which had two issues in the pre-qualifying inspection, failed after his attempt because both sides of the front were too low. He’ll start in the rear in 43rd.

“We were able to get the car right,” crew chief Chad Knaus said. “Just not exactly right.”

Johnson will actually start behind 71-year-old Morgan Shepherd. Shepherd will become the oldest driver to start a Sprint Cup race.

Shepherd, who went only 128.290 in qualifying, made his Cup debut in 1970 and won four times in NASCAR’s top series. He finished as high as fifth in the final standings in 1990 and hasn’t started a race since 2006.

Four-time Cup champion Jeff Gordon had no problem with Shepherd competing tomorrow.

“I think that’s quite an accomplishment,” Gordon said. “We talk about how amazing it is to see Mark Martin out there being competitive over 50 years old, but to just go out there and do what he does as far as Morgan is concerned at 71, that’s amazing.”

Jim Fitzgerald was 65 years, 6 months and 20 days when he raced in 1987 at Riverside International Raceway.

“At some point, I think you just have to trust that he knows what he can do and what he can’t do,” Keselowski said.

Kurt Busch will now join Keselowski on the front row. Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kyle Busch and Gordon round out the top five. Carl Edwards, Denny Hamlin, Kasey Kahne and Jeff Burton all topped Newman’s record.

Keselowski won five races last season but lost his consistency this season in the No. 2 Ford. He has three straight finishes of 21st or worse and only one top-10 finish in his last 10 races.

Whatever worked for Keselowski last season is gone. His team has been in a tailspin since a failed April inspection in Texas after NASCAR confiscated parts in the rear suspensions of his Ford.

Keselowski knows a win or two can propel him back into the Chase and keep alive his bid for a second straight title.

“I still have the same goal and that is to continue to be a winner and that is what fuels me inside,” he said. “The competitive fire that burns inside of me is still there whether I was a champion or not. I probably have it with a little bit more confidence and I believe in myself and those around me a little stronger because of the championship.”

The long-expected Stewart-Haas Racing shakeup was finalized yesterday. Kevin Harvick and his Budweiser sponsorship will join SHR teammates Tony Stewart and Danica Patrick in 2014. Ryan Newman is out of the New Hampshire record book – and a job at SHR.

Newman (15th) and Stewart (16th) actually start on the same row. Harvick starts 18th and Patrick is 32nd.

There was at least one palatable shift with Harvick’s move – Stewart might have to crack open a cold Bud to celebrate.

For years, he’s been an open admirer – and frequent chugger – of low-budget Schlitz.

“Yeah, I’m finally upgrading to the good stuff,” Stewart said. “I feel like The Jeffersons now. I’ve moved up. Yeah, it’s the end of my Schlitz era. I can’t say that it’s terribly disappointing. Now I get to drink the good stuff every day, guilt free.”

Modified qualifying

All Jimmy Blewett had to do was coast back around to the finish line and he’d have been on the pole for today’s Whelen Modified Tour race. But a patch of dirt wreaked havoc with his front right tire, sending Blewett spinning into the Turn 2 wall.

“That means I’ll be working on it tonight,” said Blewett, who turned the fastest qualifying lap at 128.281 mph but will be in the back of the 32-car field for the Town Fair Tire 100 after the crash. “All we can do is get it ready as best we can and try to work our way back to the front.”

Ted Christopher (127.885 mph) will lead the field to green after originally qualifying second behind Blewett, and Bryon Chew (127.786) will start on the outside of Row 1.

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