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NASCAR

Keselowski to start on pole at Phoenix

AVONDALE, Ariz. – Brad Keselowski earned the pole at Phoenix International Raceway after making it through NASCAR’s new knockout-style qualifying yesterday.

Keselowski had a fast lap of 139.384 mph, circling the mile oval in 25.828 seconds to earn a spot on the front row next to Joey Logano for tomorrow’s 312-mile race.

Jamie McMurray qualified third, defending Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson was fourth and Daytona 500 champion Dale Earnhardt Jr. will start fifth next to Greg Biffle.

NASCAR made numerous changes for this season, including a tweaked qualifying process in an effort to liven up what had become a monotonous part of race weekend.

Instead of going out one at a time, the entire field gets a 25-minute session to post their fastest lap, with the top 12 moving on to a 10-minute second round. On bigger tracks, the qualifying will have three sessions, with the field cut to 24 then 12.

NASCAR got a glimpse of the new system at Daytona last week, but it didn’t last long; the Nationwide series was able to get in one round before rain washed out the rest of the qualifying and for the Truck Series.

The Daytona 500 didn’t use the new qualifying process, so Phoenix was the inaugural go-round.

No one knew quite what to expect and there was a bit of concern about drivers intentionally blocking each other to prevent fast lap times, something NASCAR officials planned to keep an eye on.

Instead, the action on the track was sparse for long stretches, with some drivers racing out to get qualifying laps in right away while several others waited several minutes to get their first lap in.

Logano and Keselowski were at the front of the pack along pit road – by random drawing – and raced to get out in front on the track so they’d have a clear path.

Logano put up the fastest time early and Keselowski was right behind him in second.

Despite teams coming in for adjustments – one crew member was allowed to come over the wall to make minor changes – those two stayed out front for the entire first session.

For the final session, Keselowski put up his fast time relatively early in the 10-minute window and swapped places with Logano for the pole.

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