CLICK: Full qualifying results from New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
Having won at Richmond two weeks ago to go into the 2014 Sprint Cup Series Chase as the top seed, and then immediately going through to the next round of the play-offs with a second consecutive win the following week at Chicagoland, Penske's Brad Keselowski continued his impressive momentum by storming to pole position for this week's Sylvania 300 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
Keselowski topped both rounds of qualifying at the one mile oval in Loudon, first with a lap of 27.281s (139.614mph) and then improving that further halfway through the final ten minute top-12 shoot-out to win pole with a time of 27.090s (140.598mph) to put him 0.031s ahead of Chip Ganassi Racing's Jamie McMurray who will join him on the front row of the grid for Sunday afternoon's race.
"We had this race circled before the Chase started and we felt decent about Chicago," said Keselowski, who had also been fastest in the sole 80-minute practice session earlier in the day. "But really felt like this was a race of emphasis for us to get a win and get out of the first bracket.
"With last week considered it's even a stronger position for us to be pushing hard. It's good, we just want to keep it going," he added. "This kind of track is kind of right in my wheelhouse, right in our team's wheelhouse."
It's Keselowski's fifth pole of the year and his eighth in a total of 189 Cup race appearances. His time was a new track qualifying record, beating the previous benchmark of 138.130mph set by Kyle Busch in July, making it the fourth track record of the season claimed by Keselowski (following similar success at Phoenix, Dover and Kentucky) and the 19th new record of 2014.
“I thought we had a really good car in race trim," said McMurray after claiming second chair on the front row. " We ran a few laps in race trim to start today. Very similar to the same car we had here the first race.
"We switched over to qualifying trim we were second quick so, yeah, our car has been good so far. The track will change a little bit tomorrow when the rubber gets laid down, but overall it's been a really good weekend so far."
Keselowski and McMurray will start ahead of Kevin Harvick (Stewart-Haas Racing) and Denny Hamlin (Joe Gibbs Racing), with Hamlin's team mate Kyle Busch qualifying in fifth place alongside Hendrick Motorsport's Jimmie Johnson.
"Our lap wasn't bad, just lacking overall speed," admitted Hamlin. "Really we need a tenth-and-a-half to really be able to run with the #2 car. Overall, a little discouraged about the speed, but happy that we're in the top-five in qualifying. That's pretty good. We'll get a good pit stall out of it, that's the most important thing - good starting spot. I just want to be able to fight here for the win, we've got to get a little more speed to do that."
"Qualifying was alright," contributed Busch. "We ended up okay; probably not as good as we wanted to be there after sitting on the pole here in the spring. There are a lot of fast cars that are really good this time around. Not bad. The car stuck well. The guys did a really nice job for just making qualifying runs today. Top-five is good."
"The first lap was decent and the second lap is usually quicker," said Johnson of his own qualifying effort. "I over-drove turn 3 and ended up about a lane high. I felt like I had a shot at it, especially when we went out in the second outing of the first round and ran a thirty. I wanted to be up there on the front row or have a shot at the pole and didn't want to say I left anything on the table, but unfortunately I got into turn 3 a little hot and missed it."
Keselowski's Penske team mate Joey Logano will start from seventh pace alongside Carl Edwards (Roush Fenway Racing), while Ryan Newman (Richard Childress Racing) will share the fifth row with Ganassi's Kyle Larson. Hendrick's Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Michael Waltrip Racing's Brian Vickers were the final two drivers to make it into the second round of qualifying.
"That first round of qualifying we were really fast," said Larson, slightly disappointed not to be further forward. "I was expecting a lot there the second round. Jamie posted a really fast lap. I was better than him the first round so I was hoping to do really good in this final round. My first attempt I went out and went into 3 and my splitter must have been two feet below the earth because it never turned and I hit the wall.
"I had to come back in and re-cool down the engine and the tyres were hotter," he added. "We had to adjust the car to try and get the splitter off the ground and I was too tight. Disappointing - I think we were 10th, but happy for Jamie."
By contrast, Earnhardt was happy enough with 11th place on the grid: "We qualified a lot better this time than we did the last trip here," he pointed out. "We saved a set of tyres in practice too that will be a big benefit tomorrow in race trim. It was a good day. We lacked a little speed that second round, but still to be able to get into the second round considering how we qualified the first race here big improvement."
Just failing to make it through to the pole shoot-out were Hendrick's Jeff Gordon and MWR's Clint Bowyer, while the eighth row sees Chase contenders Kurt Busch (SHR) and Matt Kenseth (JGR) line up in 15th and 16th positions respectively for the green flag on Sunday.
“I'd say I was a little bit loose on that first run out, but I felt like I got everything out of it," insisted Gordon. "We just don't have enough speed, that's the bottom line. I think we'll be a lot better in the race. We kind of went through this same process earlier in the year here.
"I over-drove it a little bit there trying to make up for something; trying to sneak our way into it, and I over-drove it and I just got a little bit wide in the middle of 1 and 2 and the lap was over," he sighed. "But not from a lack of effort, that's for sure."
"We were just off a little bit," said Kenseth, adding that he was happier with the race trim of the #20 car. "I thought our car was really good. The track is going to change a lot tomorrow. It's going to change a lot again on Sunday with the temperature difference and the other races on the track. It drove pretty good in race trim, good speed. Qualifying trim [was] just off a little bit. I just couldn't get any more speed out of it other than that."
The remaining Chase contenders start from 17th (Kasey Kahne), 21st (Aric Almirola), 26th (Greg Biffle) and 27th (AJ Allmendinger).
"I was really good through the centre, got off the brakes and back to the throttle, and then I just sheared the back just a little bit," said Kahne. "I couldn't go wide open as quickly as I wanted to. We tightened-up the second time out and really had the same thing. We were really close. The times were close. Our Time Warner Cable Chevy is great. It's turning really well, so that's much better than the first trip up here a month or two ago, so I feel good that we'll hit on it and be much better on Sunday. But we must barely missed it."
"We just didn't tighten up enough for qualifying," said Biffle of his own effort. "We were too loose and it got sideways on me there and we didn't get our fast lap. Times are so tight that a half-tenth puts us up in the top 15, so it's unfortunate but that's the way it goes."
All 43 cars entered for this week's race, all drivers qualified for the grid for Sunday's race.
See full qualifying results from New Hampshire Motor Speedway.