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Brad Keselowski wins first pole under new knockout qualifying

- rbonnell@charlotteobserver.com
Friday, Feb. 28, 2014
NASCAR Phoenix Auto Racing

AP

Brad Keselowski gives a thumb-up after winning the pole for Sunday's NASCAR Sprint Cup Series auto race on Friday, Feb. 28, 2014, in Avondale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)

Here’s what Sprint Cup drivers learned in their first experience Friday with “knockout” qualifying:

If NASCAR doesn’t find an alternative to cars moseying around the track to cool engines, “knockout” might take on a whole different meaning.

“When someone is going 100 miles (per hour) slower, closing speed is really scary,” said Joey Logano, who qualified second for Sunday’s The Profit on CNBC 500. “I think they have to do something about that.”

Logano will share the front row with Penske teammate Brad Keselowski, who won the first pole under this format. Keselowski ran a best speed of 139.384 mph. Keselowski went out early in the initial 30-minute session that narrowed the pole competition to a dozen drivers.

“It’s a lot more nerve-wracking,” Keselowski said of the new format. “As a rule, if it’s more nerve-wracking for drivers, a lot more fun for fans. I like it because it fits my style.”

Logano was speaking for many concerning the slower traffic in qualifying. He noted the teams already have cool-down units that could be used along pit road and avoid the slow-traffic fanning process teams tried Friday.

However, Robin Pemberton, NASCAR’s vice president for competition, said they won’t immediately tweak the rules and that some drivers argue against those cool-down units in qualifying.

“Running around untaped really didn’t cool the engines down,” Pemberton said, adding that NASCAR would prefer not to give teams latitude to raise hoods during qualifying. That would be necessary with the current cool-down technology.

Pemberton said NASCAR understands this format could be a work-in-progress.

“We’ve got a really good dialogue with our competitors,” Pemberton said. “We have open conversations all the time. It’s our job to weigh” all the factors.

While some drivers anticipated the slow-go fanning laps, others were taken aback.

“I didn’t know everybody would coast and try to cool their engines. It got kind of sketchy,” said Kyle Larson, who qualified eighth.

Added Jamie McMurray, who qualified third, “NASCAR has to look at letting us cool the engines down on pit road. It’s hard to tell if someone is coming in Turn 1. … I’m sure everyone would have the same opinion as me.”

Some drivers thought Friday’s rules interpretation ran counter to putting on the best show.

“If they’d let you cool the engines down, you could go full grille tape,” McMurray said.

“More excitement, more hot laps,” Logano said.

The Profit on CNBC 500

Friday qualifying/Sunday lineup

At Phoenix International Raceway

StNo.DriverCarSpeed
12Brad KeselowskiFord139.384
222Joey LoganoFord139.265
31Jamie McMurrayChevrolet138.969
448Jimmie JohnsonChevrolet138.350
588Dale Earnhardt Jr.Chevrolet138.344
616Greg BiffleFord138.339
718Kyle BuschToyota138.318
842Kyle LarsonChevrolet138.318
943Aric AlmirolaFord138.281
1041Kurt BuschChevrolet138.047
115Kasey KahneChevrolet137.889
1211Denny HamlinToyota137.315
134Kevin HarvickChevrolet137.815
1415Clint BowyerToyota137.810
1531Ryan NewmanChevrolet137.794
1655Brian VickersToyota137.788
1724Jeff GordonChevrolet137.741
1813Casey MearsChevrolet137.588
1920Matt KensethToyota137.546
2014Tony StewartChevrolet137.483
2117Ricky Stenhouse Jr.Ford137.473
2227Paul MenardChevrolet137.347
2399Carl EdwardsFord137.216
243Austin DillonChevrolet137.200
2547AJ AllmendingerChevrolet137.179
2695Michael McDowellFord137.065
2778Martin Truex Jr.Chevrolet136.903
2838David GillilandFord136.867
299Marcos AmbroseFord136.794
3034David RaganFord136.789
3126Cole WhittToyota136.726
3233Brian ScottChevrolet136.721
3310Danica PatrickChevrolet136.545
3483Ryan TruexToyota135.875
3523Alex BowmanToyota135.614
3630Parker KligermanToyota135.384
3735Blake KochFordPoints
3866Joe NemechekToyotaPoints
3936Reed SorensonChevroletPoints
4032Travis KvapilFordPoints
417Michael AnnettChevroletPoints
4287Morgan ShepherdToyotaPoints
4351Justin AllgaierChevroletPoints
Failed to qualify
4498Josh WiseChevrolet135.287
4540Landon CassillChevrolet135.115
4677Dave BlaneyFord134.238

Bonnell: 704-358-5129; Twitter: @rick_bonnell

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