Early in the day, Jimmie Johnson predicted the three fastest cars this weekend would be those of Brad Keselowski, Kevin Harvick and Jeff Gordon.
The six-time Sprint Cup Series champion obviously knows what he’s talking about.
Keselowski was ninth fastest in Round 1 in Friday’s knockout qualifying but quickly put up the fastest speed in Round 2, an average lap speed of 126.618 mph that stood up the remainder of the session. The pole is Keselowski’s fourth of the season – second most in the series.
Gordon was second fastest, Johnson was third, Harvick fourth and Joey Logano fifth.
“It’s been a great day so far,” said Keselowski, who earned his seventh career pole. “I’m not sure how many races I’ve run at Richmond, but this is by far the best Cup car I’ve had here.”
“No matter what format you have for qualifying, you have to be fast. Certainly, there is more strategy involved in the knockout qualifying format. But you still have to have fast cars.”
Keselowski said his goal Saturday night is to win, which would give him four wins on the season and the No. 1 seed in the Chase.
Nationwide adds races with Earnhardt: Nationwide Insurance announced Friday it has expanded its three-year relationship with Hendrick Motorsports to become the majority sponsor of driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. and his No. 88 team beginning with the 2015 Cup season.
In May, Nationwide signed up to become a part-time sponsor of Earnhardt’s team but has now increased its sponsorship to 21 Cup races, including the Daytona 500, for each of the next three seasons.
The extra races became available when current sponsor National Guard announced it was discontinuing its motorsports sponsorships in NASCAR and IndyCar next season.
“Communication is ongoing with regard to the future of the sponsorship, which is contracted through the 2015 season,” HMS said in a statement.
Talladega qualifying changes: NASCAR has tweaked its knockout qualifying rules for next month’s Truck and Cup series races at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway.
The first round of qualifying for each series will be split into two groups, with drivers assigned to groups by random draw.
After two five-minute sessions, the fastest 24 cars will proceed to another five-minute session with the fastest 12 from that session then competing in a final five-minute session for the pole.
Previously, all cars began in a 25-minute first round. The change only applies to qualifying at Dayton and Talladega (except for the Daytona 500).
Almirola to run Nationwide races: Aric Almirola will run two Nationwide Series races for Biagi-DenBeste this fall with his first being next weekend at Chicagoland Speedway. He also will compete in the Sept. 27 race at Dover.
Three things to watch
1 Joey Logano won the spring race at Richmond, and a victory Saturday night would give him four wins on the season and the No. 1 seed in the Chase.
2 Though he has struggled in recent weeks, Kyle Busch leads all active drivers with four wins at Richmond and an average finish of 7.0 at the track.
3 With Matt Kenseth in the Chase whether or not he wins, two spots in the 16-driver field will be filed based on Saturday night’s results.
• This race a year ago may have been the low point of Clint Bowyer’s NASCAR career. He’ll need one of his best highlights to make the Chase this season. Last year Bowyer was at the center of a controversial finish that included officials at Michael Waltrip Racing attempting to manipulate the outcome of the race in order to assist then-teammate Martin Truex Jr. in making the Chase field. This year, Bowyer is on the outside of the Chase looking in. He’ll likely need to earn his first win of the season on Saturday night to secure a berth in the 16-driver field. He has a good record at Richmond, but many other drivers who are good at Richmond already have secured wins this season and aren’t going to just lay down.
• Richmond has spiced up its postrace activities for the 16 drivers who make the Chase. A postrace party will take place on the frontstretch complete with a DJ, glow sticks, light-up sunglasses and thunder clappers.
• Sooner or later fans and media will learn many drivers don’t follow the nuances of the numerous rule changes that come in the sport. Dale Earnhardt Jr. on Friday had trouble coming up with the details of the new Chase format. One year at the All-Star race, a crew chief told me his driver asked him about the year’s rule change during pace laps.
Special guest Jimmie Johnson gives you three picks for your fantasy team:
Brad Keselowski, Kevin Harvick, Jeff Gordon