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Hamlin Sets New Track Record and Wins Pole at Pocono

By Seth Livingstone (NASCAR Wire Service) LONG POND, P.A.  – A four-time NASCAR Sprint Cup winner at Pocono Raceway, Denny Hamlin, continued to excel on the 2.5-mile triangular layout on Friday, setting a track record in qualifying for Sunday’s Pocono 400.

But Hamlin says Pocono is a different animal than the track at which he won his first two Cup races for Joe Gibbs Racing in 2006.

“It’s so different that you could almost rename the race track,” said Hamlin, whose lap at 181.415 mph edged Kurt Busch by .007 mph. “The old stats don’t necessarily mean that you’re going to have a great weekend, but this is a great sign.”

Driving on a track that was repaved for the 2012 season and retooled in Turn 2 with the addition of an apron for this year’s events, Hamlin  was only 24th-fastest during Friday’s mid-day practice session. That’s when Hamlin said his team went to work on his FedEx Toyota Camry.

“This was very similar to what we did our rookie season,” said Hamlin, who last went to victory lane at Pocono in June 2010. “We just kept making it two- to three-tenths faster ever session. We were definitely not a pole-winning car in practice or even in the first round of qualifying. A little bit (of the improvement) was repetition – me getting all I can out of the race car – and a lot was Darian Grubb (crew chief) making the right adjustments.

“Typically, when you have a car that can get the pole, that tells me you have all the parts and pieces and should be capable of winning. As tough as passing is (at Pocono), it’s better to be up front than having to battle your way through traffic.”

Pocono has always been one of Hamlin’s favorite layouts.  In addition to posting his first two Sprint Cup victories from the pole, he has posted 13 top-10 finishes in 16 career starts.  But success has been more fleeting in recent years.  Last August he crashed in Turn 3 on the 16th lap of the race and finished 43rd.

“We haven’t been that strong here since the repave,” Hamlin said. “Handling is not as big an issue at this race track since the repave. Now, it has a lot of grip. And we haven’t qualified that well. Back when I was winning in 2006, ’07, 2010, on the old track, you could make up tons of positions. That would never happen today because the cars are running so fast and they’re so equal.”

Busch, who’ll start alongside Hamlin, had previously shattered Jimmie Johnson’s track record in the second round of Friday’s knockout qualifying at 181.087 in his Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet.

“When you don’t get the pole, it’s bittersweet,” Busch said. “The sweet side is that you know the car has speed in it. After my (final) lap, I felt I’d left a little change – a little pock change – on the lap in Turn 1. But I was really surprised we had the speed to contend for the pole today.”

Brad Keselowski and Kevin Harvick qualified on the second row, while Jeff Gordon and Kyle Busch also broke the 180-mph mark.

Keselowski will start in the top 10 for the 11th time in 14 races and knew he was close to securing his third pole this season.

“Two-hundreths (of a second) on a 2.5-mile track – that’s pretty dang close,” Keselowski said.

Toyota driver Brian Vickers had the fastest car in Friday’s practice and was fastest – ahead of Kurt Busch and Gordon – in the first round of qualifying.

“We’ve been really strong in the first round but just can’t figure out how to keep that (speed) in the next two qualifying rounds,” Vickers said.

Not everyone was so fortunate or so fast on Friday. Jimmie Johnson, fresh off consecutive Sprint Cup victories, was 20th in qualifying. Series points leader Matt Kenseth failed to advance through the first round of knockout qualifying and will start 26th.

“The driver blew Turn 2,” Johnson said. “I just got too greedy and lost the nose in corner exit. I knew it killed the lap. Sure enough, when I came back around, it was only good enough for 20th. I feel bad for my guys, but this one is on me.”

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NASCAR Announces Enhancements to Mudsummer Classic

By Chris Owens – Following a successful first running in 2013, the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series will invade the Eldora Speedway for the second time in just over a month.

Today, NASCAR announced changes to the format for the event to enchance the running of the second annual Mudsummer Classic at the Rosburg, OH track.

The event will remain a 150-lap race with the event being broken into three segments. The first segment will be 60 laps, followed by a 50 lap run. To close the race, drivers will run a 40 lap segment. Cautions will count in all segments, but will not count during the competition caution in between segments.

New for this year, teams will no longer be required to pit during the competition cautions between segment, whereas last year teams were required to come down pit road. Positions can also not be improved on pit road during the competition caution.

To get into the show, teams will still run a two laps in single car qualifying. Instead of practice times determining the qualifying order, the random draw will return to dictate the qualifying order. Each team will then be classified into one of five heat races. Heat races in 2013 were eight laps, in 2014 they’ll now be 10.

“Last year’s inaugural event at Eldora Speedway was an incredible success, and these enhancements will only increase the excitement for our fans,” said Chad Little, NASCAR Camping World Truck Series managing director.

“NASCAR continually works with team owners and drivers to ensure that NASCAR fans get what they’ve come to expect out of the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series – close, thrilling racing, every single lap.”

Like last year, the top-20 in owners points will be locked into the starting field. The top-25 starting positions will be locked in following the five heat races, with positions 26 to 29 coming from the Last Chance race.

The final position will be given to the most recent series champion not already in the field. If the position isn’t used by the most recent champion, it will be given to the next highest finishing truck of the Last Chance Race.

Owners points will also be given to the first five trucks who didn’t transfer to the feature from the Last Chance Race.

The Mudsummer Classic takes place on July 23rd from the Eldora Speedway in Rosburg, Ohio. The event will be shown live on FOX Sports 1.

EMAIL CHRIS AT chris.owens@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @ChrisOwens62

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Track Surface Comes Apart During Sprint Cup Race in Dover

By Kelly Crandall (DOVER, Del.) – Prior to Sunday’s FedEx 400 at Dover International Speedway some drivers felt the racing surface in Turn 2 was going to be a problem.

Yet none felt it was warranted enough to go to NASCAR officials and as such, on Lap 159 of the 400-lap event the concrete in that corner came up. @JamieMcMurray wound up an innocent victim when a chunk of the track hit the nose of No. 1 Cessna Chevrolet, damaging the splitter area and shooting him into the backstretch wall.

The hole – much like Daytona in February of 2010 – brought out the red flag for 22 minutes as NASCAR officials and workers headed to make repairs. NASCAR vice president of competition and operations Robin Pemberton said he was unsure what the dimensions of the hole were, but called it substantial.

“We do a track walk after every race and in the morning, so at the time that had been a previous patch, but our staff, our crew didn’t see anything wrong with it,” Pemberton said.

Unfortunately for McMurray, his team was unable to repair the car under the red flag. He was also penalized for pitting too soon but fought back for a 13th place finish. NASCAR stuck to the rules that teams are not allowed to repair a car under the red flag, reminiscent of @JeffGordonWeb at Martinsville in 2004.

Gordon had a chunk of the Martinsville surface go through the nose of his Chevrolet while he was running second and even after protests, his Hendrick team was also kept from repairing the machine. The exception to the red flag repair rule, as clarified by Pemberton, was the Coca-Cola 600 last year when the overhead TV cable fell and damaged multiple cars.

Winner @JimmieJohnson was one of the drivers who noted under the red flag that the area which had come apart was one he noticed looked broken early Sunday morning. There was just something about the way that the squares were laid that concerned the now nine-time Dover winner.

“I could see something from afar that just looked like the edge was broken, like the corner was broken on it. I didn’t think much of it,” he said. “There’s countless track vehicles driving around the racetrack, and actually right over the top of it looking at it, and everybody else – I just didn’t think much of it. I saw it from afar and just chalked it up to maybe a bad angle looking at something, because I didn’t drive over the top of it, I saw it from 40, 50 yards away.

“And when I came back around and saw that was the spot, I’m like, no way, that’s what I saw from afar earlier.”

After Sunday’s race restarted on Lap 164 the surface was no longer a problem. The event ran to its scheduled conclusion with no other drivers or teams complaining or suffering setbacks. Officials are prepared for every track with epoxy type filler and it’s used whenever a track needs to be repaired.

“Whoever fixed it did a good job repairing it. It started to come back up at the end, but I didn’t think it was a major issue,” said second place finisher Brad @Keselowski. “It was definitely a major issue at first when it happened. I could feel it when I was driving over it, and you knew it was only going to get worse. If somebody didn’t repair a small hole, it was going to turn into a big hole, and I’ll give NASCAR credit enough to realize that and stop and fix it before a problem like that escalated, which it would very quickly. I thought the repair was pretty good. Yeah, I didn’t really notice it a lot. You could feel it a little bit, but I thought it was probably just right.”

Teams were however, still concerned like @DaleJr.’s, who had a crew member go take a look at the surface to give them a heads up if it appeared to be coming apart again. Earnhardt Jr. wanted to be aware if he needed to change his line. Earnhardt noted under the red flag that the facility should perhaps repave to asphalt and put a tunnel in as well.

“Concrete has been losing the battle for preferred surface on a race track for 60 years. I don’t think they are going to start paving them all with concrete anytime soon,” Earnhardt Jr. said.

“It is okay and I think they got their money out of what they put down here. I would be a little nervous because there are so many joints and joists in this place it’s a lottery on which one is going to come up next. If they repave it, I hope they put asphalt down and we would give the fans a hell of a show around here.”

Martinsville has since been repaved and has had no such issues. Daytona has also been repaved. Pemberton said NASCAR would not recommend anything of the nature to Dover before returning in the fall.

“The track doesn’t want things like this to happen any more than we do or the competitors do, so this isn’t a recommendation. You always go into a facility – things happen, and that’s why we’re trained, we have people that are trained in these types of things, and that’s why the group is able to make repairs in 20 minutes or so,” he said. “You always have to be ready for the emergencies and you don’t have to recommend because everybody wants to have the same perfect race day as they can.”

EMAIL KELLY AT kelly.crandall@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @KellyCrandall

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Johnson Goes Back-to-Back in Dominant Dover Win

By Seth Livingstone (NASCAR Wire Service) DOVER, Del. – It came as little surprise that Jimmie Johnson was able to dominate the field Sunday at Dover International Speedway, a track where he has won nine NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races, more than any driver in NASCAR history.

What was stunning was Johnson’s public revelation that he’d had hernia surgery in December, a procedure which might have contributed to his slow start.

“It wasn’t supposed to be a secret,” said Johnson, whose surgery came to light during a recorded interview with FOX that aired during the race. “The hernia surgery was, literally, right after the banquet. I’m surprised nobody knew about this thing sooner.”

Johnson said he had bilateral hernias (one on each side) as well as a third in the “belly button area,” repaired laparoscopically and was back in training 10 days after the procedure. He conceded that the surgery, in concert with bad weather, led to his team missing three test sessions and might have contributed to his team’s 11-race winless string to start the season.

“I do feel like that hurt us some and had us behind a little,” said NASCAR’s six-time champion, whose team suddenly looks invincible with Cup victories in consecutive weeks. “Now we can get on a roll. We’ve got some good tracks ahead for us.”

Johnson, who says Dover’s high-banked mile track “suits his style,” led 272 of the final 319 miles on his way to victory in Sunday’s FedEx 400 presented by Autism Speaks.

“They’re just unbelievable here,” said Matt Kenseth, who finished third.  “If you’re going to have a shot to win here, that’s the car you’re going to have to beat every time unless they break.”

Crew chief Chad Knaus is quite pleased with the way things are rounding into shape for the 48 team.

“Going into the (Coca-Cola) 600 last weekend, I told Jimmie we were taking his favorite race car to the track at Charlotte Motor Speedway – and I told him that his new favorite car was going to be going to Dover the following week,” Knaus said.

“We feel like we’ve been just a pinch behind this year. (That’s when) everybody in our shop digs down really deep – from the pit crew to the guys that hang the bodies to the guys that build the chassis to the guys that build the engines. They try to find an advantage. When we do finally start to hit our stride … we can really start to make things happen. I think we’re seeing a lot of fruit of a lot of people’s labor right now.”

As dominant as Johnson was, the race boiled down to a restart with four laps left.

“Cautions at the end – it’s an opportunity for the guy that’s dominated all day to make a mistake,” Johnson said. “So, I wanted to make sure I chose the right lane and got a good restart.”

Johnson was able to pull away from Keselowski and Kenseth, who was so slow on the restart that Clint Bowyer attempted to push him from behind.

“I did an awful job on the last restart,” Kenseth said. “I just got spinning the tires too much and the best car won.”

Bowyer had taken two tires on a yellow flag pit stop with 40 laps remaining and gained the lead, only to see Johnson roar past him.

“I was just trying to help (Kenseth),” said Bowyer, who, like Kenseth, is still seeking his first victory of the season. “We were all spinning like crazy and I had a pretty good run at him. I knocked him into the wall and I was like: “Not another (Joe) Gibbs (Racing) car.”

It was Bowyer’s contact with JGR’s Kyle Busch that sent Busch into the wall on Lap 125. That ended Busch’s quest to complete a three-race sweep at Dover. Busch, the only driver ever to win the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series and NASCAR Nationwide series races at Dover on the same weekend, was strong early, leading the race’s first 81 laps.

Brad Keselowski finished second, followed by Kenseth, Bowyer and Denny Hamlin.

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Busch Wins Nationwide Race at Dover, On Verge of Second ‘Triple’

By Seth Livingstone (NASCAR Wire Service) DOVER, Del. – Kyle Busch’s dominant weekend at the Monster Mile continued on Saturday.

Hours after leading 150 laps to win the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race, Busch led the final 124 to capture Saturday’s Buckle Up 200 presented by Click It or Ticket in the Nationwide Series.

Already the only driver to win all three NASCAR national series events in a single weekend, Busch will attempt to duplicate the feat he accomplished in August 2010 at Bristol Motor Speedway. Busch starts alongside pole-sitter Brad Keselowski in Sunday’s Sprint cup race, the FedEx 400 benefitting Autism Speaks

“Our (Sprint Cup) car has been really fast here,” said Busch after climbing from the driver’s seat in victory lane. “We unloaded fast. I think we’ll be all right tomorrow. Our guys gave me a great piece (to drive) today.”

With a record 66 victories in the Nationwide Series, 39 in the truck series and 29 in Sprint Cup, Busch has taken 134 checkered flags at NASCAR’s elite levels. He says his weekend sweep at Bristol remains the pinnacle of his accomplishments to date.

“I’ve won the Southern 500 at Darlington, but I don’t have a Daytona 500. I don’t have a Coke 600, no All-Star race, no (win at the) Brickyard, so essentially, I got nothing,” Busch said, tongue-in-cheek. “Hopefully, someday, the big ones come. We’ll keep working toward all that.

“But the Bristol sweep ranks right up there. I’d say one here would rank right up there, too. The magnitude of stress put on your body, your car and your equipment due to this race track is high up there.”

Busch’s dominance on Saturday foiled Joey Logano’s attempt to win a record-tying fifth consecutive Nationwide race at Dover International Speedway.

“Unfortunately, all good things must come to an end,” said Logano, who finished third. “It was kind of frustrating out there today. I felt like we had the winning car, but we were too loose that last run and couldn’t pass anyone. We never really had good enough restarts on the inside.”

To prevail, Busch had to survive three restarts with the lead. He also needed to fend off the challenge of Trevor Bayne, whose AdvoCare Ford stalked his Monster Energy Toyota for the final 35 laps, pulling to within three-tenths of a second with 15 laps to go as both drivers wound their way through lapped traffic.

“With 20 to go, I started making some pretty good gains on him,” said Bayne, who this week picked up a full-time Sprint Cup ride beginning in 2015. “His car was really loose and if he missed it a little bit it would wiggle up the race track. That’s what allowed me to catch him as much as I did.

“I thought I was going to be able to get to him and make a move. But he got through lap traffic a little bit better than I did and that separated us a little bit. He said he was giving it everything he had when I talked to him in victory lane. I said, ‘I promise you, that was all I had to try to catch you.’”

Busch never doubted that.

“At the end the 6 (Bayne) certainly gave us a run for the money and closed in on us when we got in to a little traffic,” he said.

Despite the hard racing, the order of the first six finishers remained unchanged throughout the final 35 laps as the race remained green for the final 42 miles. Matt Kenseth, rookie Chase Elliott and Kyle Larson finished fourth, fifth and sixth. It was Kenseth’s eighth consecutive top-10 Nationwide finish without a win this season.

Regan Smith retained his series points lead despite his struggles at Dover. Smith, who finished 10th, has never been better than ninth in a combined 19 Cup Series and Nationwide starts at the Monster Mile.

Elliott Sadler finished ninth on Saturday, gaining one point to remain four points back. Chase Elliott, who has won twice this season, is 22 points behind Smith.

1. (4) Kyle Busch(i), Toyota, 200, $43590.

2. (5) Trevor Bayne, Ford, 200, $42690.

3. (1) Joey Logano(i), Ford, 200, $28865.

4. (6) Matt Kenseth(i), Toyota, 200, $21665.

5. (2) Chase Elliott #, Chevrolet, 200, $26015.

6. (7) Kyle Larson(i), Chevrolet, 200, $16765.

7. (3) Brian Scott, Chevrolet, 200, $22150.

8. (12) Ty Dillon #, Chevrolet, 200, $21910.

9. (9) Elliott Sadler, Toyota, 200, $21515.

10. (11) Regan Smith, Chevrolet, 200, $23415.

11. (8) Chris Buescher #, Ford, 200, $20865.

12. (10) Brendan Gaughan, Chevrolet, 200, $20740.

13. (16) Ryan Sieg #, Chevrolet, 200, $20640.

14. (13) Landon Cassill, Chevrolet, 199, $20515.

15. (21) James Buescher, Toyota, 198, $21290.

16. (19) Dakoda Armstrong #, Ford, 198, $20365.

17. (23) Joe Nemechek(i), Toyota, 198, $20290.

18. (25) Jeff Green, Toyota, 198, $20240.

19. (22) Paulie Harraka, Toyota, 197, $20190.

20. (29) Jeremy Clements, Chevrolet, 197, $20840.

21. (27) Timmy Hill(i), Chevrolet, 196, $20085.

22. (14) Mike Bliss, Toyota, 195, $19980.

23. (28) Joey Gase, Chevrolet, 195, $19905.

24. (32) Derrike Cope, Chevrolet, 194, $19830.

25. (33) Josh Reaume, Dodge, 192, $20280.

26. (17) Dylan Kwasniewski #, Chevrolet, 188, $19730.

27. (15) Ryan Reed #, Ford, 187, $19680.

28. (20) JJ Yeley, Dodge, 186, $19605.

29. (26) Tanner Berryhill #, Dodge, 180, $19530.

30. (39) Jeffrey Earnhardt, Chevrolet, 171, $19780.

31. (18) Cale Conley(i), Chevrolet, Accident, 146, $19425.

32. (38) Mike Harmon, Dodge, Suspension, 103, $19365.

33. (24) Josh Wise(i), Chevrolet, Engine, 78, $19300.

34. (35) Carl Long, Toyota, Clutch, 44, $13265.

35. (31) Tommy Joe Martins #, Dodge, Vibtration, 29, $13225.

36. (30) Todd Bodine(i), Chevrolet, Engine, 15, $18260.

37. (40) Morgan Shepherd, Chevrolet, Engine, 13, $12240.

38. (37) Ryan Ellis, Chevrolet, Wheel Bearing, 13, $12176.

39. (36) Matt Dibenedetto, Chevrolet, Vibration, 10, $12075.

40. (34) Blake Koch, Toyota, Vibration, 8, $12020.

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Busch Goes 4-for-4 with Dominant Dover Truck Win

By Seth Livingstone (NASCAR Wire Service) DOVER, Del. – Much to the dismay of Matt Crafton, Johnny Sauter, Ryan Blaney and others, Kyle Busch has been unstoppable in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series and untouchable at Dover International Speedway.

Busch, won for the fourth time in as many 2014 starts and posted his third victory in his last three NCWTS attempts at Dover, leading  150 of 200 laps to capture Friday’s Lucas Oil 200.

As a regular in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, Busch is not eligible for the Camping World Truck Series title. But he’s driving like a champion. In addition to his 39th victory, he recorded the eighth perfect driver rating of his CWTS career in Friday’s race.

“We all know, the 51 was lights out, OK?” summed up Sauter. “Hopefully we’ll be able to learn what they’re doing in the 51 camp and run with them, week in, week out.”

It all begs the question: Might Busch be able to finish unbeaten in the truck races he drives this season?

“It’s not unimaginable,” Busch said. “But a lot of circumstances have to go your way. It’s certainly feasible, maybe.”

Turning the duties over to rookie Erik Jones for five of the next six races, Busch isn’t slated to drive another CWTS race until June 26 at Kentucky.

“It’s been fun. I’ve enjoyed being able to run up front, lead laps and such,” Busch said. Busch has now won five consecutive starts dating back to last season, the second time in his career he has accomplished the feat.

Crafton provided Busch’s stiffest competition until his right front tire gave out, leading to a hard crash on Lap 158.

That left it to Blaney and Sauter to pursue Busch after a restart with 20 laps to go. But once Busch pulled away, neither could close to within 1.3 seconds of the leader.

“Our Tundra was awesome on the long runs,” said Busch’s crew chief Eric Phillips.

Blaney lost ground on a pit stop late in the race, but knew that was not the deciding factor.

“With 50 or 60 to go we had a loose left rear wheel,” said Blaney,  happy to be contending after 22nd-place finishes in his previous two races. “Luckily we caught it before it went back green. But I don’t think it mattered. I don’t think anyone was going to catch (Busch’s) 51. He was something else.”

Crafton, who entered the race as the series points leader, said he had “no warning” his right front tire was about to go down.

“It’s a shame,” said Crafton, who led 46 laps. Relegated to a 23rd-place finish by his crash, Crafton dropped into a second-place tie with Sauter, one point behind Timothy Peters. With his victory at Martinsville Speedway, Crafton remains the only driver other than Busch to win a CWTS race this season.

Peters emerged with the series lead despite losing power and finishing 10th, two laps down. His Red Horse Racing teammate German Quiroga Jr., lost a late-race duel with Tyler Reddick for eighth place, but remained the only driver to finish in the top 10 of each race this season.

After leading the first 73 laps, Busch did have to overcome a bad break. He was already on pit road for a green flag stop when Brennan Newberry crashed into the inside retaining wall.  Busch continued back onto the track without pitting but fell to eighth place on the restart.

That handed the lead to Crafton and helped Blaney, Reddick, Sauter and John Hunter Nemechek advance within the top five.

Busch wasted no time in charging to third. He passed Blaney during a lengthy green flag run and closed to Crafton’s rear bumper.  On Lap 120 Busch rode the high line to regain the lead.

Brandon Jones raced with the leaders all night and posted a career-best fourth-place finish. Joey Coulter was fifth, his best finish of the season. Ben Kennedy finished behind Nemechek, his seventh-place finish the best by a rookie.

Busch, who qualified on the front row for Sunday’s Sprint Cup race, has a chance to complete a rare triple this weekend. He has won two of his last three Nationwide Series starts and had the fifth-fastest lap time in final practice for Saturday’s Buckle Up 200 presented by Click It or Ticket Nationwide event.

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Keselowski Blisters Track Qualifying Record, Wins Pole at Dover

By Seth Livingstone (NASCAR Wire Service) DOVER, Del. – Seeing Brad Keselowski atop the speed charts in qualifying has become a common sight in 2014.

But no one had ever seen speeds at Dover International Speedway like the ones drivers, across the board, ran Friday in qualifying for Sunday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Fed Ex 400 Benefitting Autism Speaks.

Keselowski, a top-five qualifier for the 10th time in 13 races this season, earned his second Coors Light Pole of 2014.  In doing so, he added more than 2.5 mph to the previous track record set by Dale Earnhardt Jr. last year.

Keselowski clocked 164.444 mph in his Team Penske Ford Fusion to edge the Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota of Kyle Busch (163.785) and his Penske teammate Joey Logano (163.888).

It took record-breaking speed to even be in the hunt for the pole.  The first 24 cars in the 30-minute knockout round of qualifying each broke the old mark of 161.840 mph set last September 29.

Earnhardt posted Friday’s 13th-fastest lap, broke his old record by more than a second (162.933) and still missed the opportunity to qualify for the pole in the second and final round.

“The cars are built a lot differently than they were last year,” said Keselowski, who has one victory under his belt this season (Las Vegas) and a win and four top-10 finishes in eight previous starts at Dover.

“Ford has done a great job catching up (thanks in large part) to the front nose piece. They kind of got left behind on that one. Then, when the Gen-6 car came out, we were allowed to catch up for 2014.”

Like Keselowski, Logano has been a threat in qualifying all season. Earning a spot on the front row four times. He placed in the top 10 for the ninth time in 13 races.

Keselowski, currently ninth in the Cup point standings, says the biggest reason all manufacturers are running faster in qualifying is added downforce.

“The bigger rear spoiler and the ride height rule (have made the most difference),” he said. “The bigger spoiler adds a significant amount. There’s also a different front belly pan. The cars make more grip by a long shot than what they ever have … 2,600-2,800 pounds of downforce last year to about 3,200 now. That’s a significant increase.”

Busch actually ran the fastest lap of the day, clocking 166.297 mph in practice, when 29 cars exceeded the track record before the track warmed in the afternoon sun.

“Our car was really good in practice,” Busch said. “We weren’t quite able to get the speed we wanted in qualifying. I don’t think anybody really did. Overall, we slowed down a little more than others, I guess. I’m really happy with our M&M Camry in race trim, so I think we’ll be good for the race Sunday.”

Jimmie Johnson (163.262) was fourth with the fastest-qualifying Chevrolet. Kyle Larson was the top-qualifying rookie, finishing fifth at 163.080, one spot ahead of series points leader Jeff Gordon, who became the first driver to circle Dover with a qualifying time of less than 22 seconds (21.98).

Greg Biffle was Friday’s first to shatter the track record but barely hung on to reach the second round of qualifying, ranking 11th among 12 qualifiers. He was no threat for the pole during the final 10-minute session.

“We started out really good on a green track,” Biffle said. “But as it rubbered up, we got slower.”

With 43 drivers qualifying for 43 spots, none were sent home on Friday.

1. (2)  Brad Keselowski, Ford, 164.444 mph.

2. (18)  Kyle Busch, Toyota, 163.785 mph.

3. (22)  Joey Logano, Ford, 163.688 mph.

4. (48)  Jimmie Johnson, Chevrolet, 163.362 mph.

5. (42)  Kyle Larson #, Chevrolet, 163.080 mph.

6. (24)  Jeff Gordon, Chevrolet, 163.066 mph.

7. (11)  Denny Hamlin, Toyota, 163.066 mph.

8. (4)  Kevin Harvick, Chevrolet, 162.499 mph.

9. (55)  Brian Vickers, Toyota, 162.411 mph.

10. (15)  Clint Bowyer, Toyota, 162.243 mph.

11. (47)  AJ Allmendinger, Chevrolet, 162.155 mph.

12. (16)  Greg Biffle, Ford, 160.995 mph.

13. (88)  Dale Earnhardt Jr., Chevrolet, 162.933 mph.

14. (31)  Ryan Newman, Chevrolet, 162.903 mph.

15. (27)  Paul Menard, Chevrolet, 162.889 mph.

16. (78)  Martin Truex Jr., Chevrolet, 162.844 mph.

17. (5)  Kasey Kahne, Chevrolet, 162.690 mph.

18. (66)  Brett Moffitt, Toyota, 162.602 mph.

19. (1)  Jamie McMurray, Chevrolet, 162.580 mph.

20. (14)  Tony Stewart, Chevrolet, 162.550 mph.

21. (20)  Matt Kenseth, Toyota, 162.536 mph.

22. (13)  Casey Mears, Chevrolet, 162.250 mph.

23. (3)  Austin Dillon #, Chevrolet, 162.155 mph.

24. (41)  Kurt Busch, Chevrolet, 162.009 mph.

25. (43)  Aric Almirola, Ford, 161.754 mph.

26. (17)  Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Ford, 161.747 mph.

27. (9)  Marcos Ambrose, Ford, 161.725 mph.

28. (10)  Danica Patrick, Chevrolet, 161.623 mph.

29. (99)  Carl Edwards, Ford, 161.573 mph.

30. (51)  Justin Allgaier #, Chevrolet, 160.887 mph.

31. (26)  Cole Whitt #, Toyota, 160.592 mph.

32. (38)  David Gilliland, Ford, 160.435 mph.

33. (98)  Josh Wise, Chevrolet, 160.206 mph.

34. (34)  David Ragan, Ford, 159.419 mph.

35. (23)  Alex Bowman #, Toyota, 159.391 mph.

36. (40)  Landon Cassill(i), Chevrolet, 159.200 mph.

37. (44)  JJ Yeley(i), Chevrolet, Owner Points

38. (36)  Reed Sorenson, Chevrolet, Owner Points

39. (7)  Michael Annett #, Chevrolet, Owner Points

40. (33)  David Stremme, Chevrolet, Owner Points

41. (83)  Ryan Truex #, Toyota, Owner Points

42. (77)  Dave Blaney, Ford, Owner Points

43. (32)  Blake Koch(i), Ford, Owner Points

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Unexpected Sponsorships Continue to Push Josh Wise Forward

By Brandon Butler – The 2014 Sprint Cup season has thus far been a great year for @Josh_Wise and Phil Parsons Racing and it appears to be getting even better.

After users involved with the online digital currency Dogecoin raised enough funds to sponsor Wise and the No. 98 for Talladega earlier this month, and the Sprint All-Star Race in Charlotte, which included voting him into the big event, another sponsor has stepped up to help fund the team.

iRacing.com Motorsport Simulations will be sponsoring the No. 98 Chevrolet along with Reddit.com for this weekend’s Fedex 400 Benefiting Autism Speaks at Dover International Speedway.

In addition to the sponsorship this weekend, iRacing.com has teamed up with the Riverside, California native to help fund his team in the Sprint Cup Series going forward. Current iRacing.com members as well as non-members have the chance to help Wise’s efforts by purchasing a discounted membership or the iRacing Sprint Car. Those who purchase a membership or purchase the Sprint Car will have a chance to win VIP experiences with the No. 98 team.

For more information on this special promotion, fans can visit iRacing.com/Jose-Wise-Promo.

iRacing.com is the worlds premier motorsports simulation that allows anyone to compete against sim racing enthusiasts and fans from across the globe. With choices to race in vehicles from many different motorsports series: NASCAR, IndyCar, Aussie V-8 Supercar Series, Grand-Am, as well as car manufacturers Ford, Chevrolet, BMW, Toyota, and many more.  NASCAR teamed up with iRacing.com to launch an officially sanctioned racing series on the iRacing service – now known as the NASCAR PEAK Antifreeze Series – under the NASCAR banner in 2010.

More good news came this past week in addition to the iRacing/Reddit.com sponsorship. Dogecoin will return to the No. 98 for the GEICO 500 at Talladega Superspeedway on October 19th after the community sold enough No. 98 replica pit-crew t-shirts featuring the Dogecoin currency branding.

The amount of support that Josh Wise has received from the online community has been surprising, yet astonishing at the same time. Certainly a feel good NASCAR story for the little guys. Not only was Wise able shock the NASCAR world by winning the All-Star Fan Vote, he has successfully gained more funding and fans for his team, which he and team owner Phil Parsons probably weren’t expecting.

With all the sponsorships and fan support the Phil Parsons Racing organization has received, this shows that NASCAR fans have a voice in what goes on not just at the racetrack, but also behind the scenes in the race shops.

EMAIL BRANDON AT brandon.butler@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW BRANDON ON TWITTER: @butlerb92

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Johnson Breaks Winless Streak with Dominant Victory at Charlotte

By Reid Spencer (NASCAR Wire Service) CONCORD, N.C. — Jimmie Johnson wasn’t worried—really.

Though fans and pundits of NASCAR Sprint Cup Series racing seemed inordinately concerned about Johnson’s “drought,” the six-time series champion said repeatedly that a victory would come.

Sunday night it did. Driving a No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet that led a race-high 164 laps, Johnson beat Kevin Harvick to the finish line at Charlotte Motor Speedway by 1.272 seconds to win the Coca-Cola 600 for the fourth time.

The victory was Johnson’s seventh at CMS, breaking a tie with Bobby Allison for most victories at the 1.5-mile track in NASCAR Sprint Cup Series points races. Johnson’s 67th career win, eighth most all-time, broke an 11-race winless streak to start the season, matching the longest such drought of his career.

“It’s great to win, but believe me—and I promise you—all the hype and all the concern and worry, that was elsewhere,” Johnson said. “That wasn’t in my head… We’ve had great races, and we’ve had opportunities there in front of us and had stuff taken away.

“And we’ve had bad races. I have to be honest about that, too.”

But Johnson also conceded that the mystique of the 48 might be back.

“Yeah, they know we’re awake,” he said. “In winning, it doesn’t matter who you are. The 4 car (Harvick) has had that momentum this year. They’ve been able to go out and execute and show a lot of speed and win.

“Hopefully, the 48 is heading that way, and we can get those other people thinking about us.”

Behind Johnson and Harvick, Matt Kenseth ran third, followed by Carl Edwards and Sprint All-Star Race winner Jamie McMurray. Brian Vickers, Jeff Gordon (who drove with an aching back), Paul Menard, Kyle Busch and Brad Keselowski completed the top 10.

Before he could nail down the win, though, Johnson had to pass Kenseth after a restart on lap 384 of 400. After taking the green flag, Kenseth opened a lead of more than one second before Johnson began to track him down.

Johnson dispatched Kenseth on Lap 392 and pulled away to a comfortable margin. Kenseth ceded second place to Harvick before he reached the checkered flag.

“You race as hard as you can for these wins,” said Kenseth, who, like Johnson, entered Sunday night’s race without a victory to his credit this season. “You hate it when you can’t hold on and win it. There’s no more I can do about it.

“We were in position. I did everything I could possibly do and got beat. It’s just the way it goes sometimes.”

From Harvick’s point of view, the No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing team lost an opportunity to win in a car that was at least the equal of Johnson’s. Harvick brought the No. 4 Chevy to pit road on Lap 263 for an unscheduled stop to deal with loose wheels.

“Yeah, we had a fast car all night,” Harvick said. “Just kind of fumbled again on pit road. Got behind, got a lap down. We needed a 700-mile race to get back to where we needed to be.

“We left two wheels loose and played catch-up the rest of the night. We’ve got to clean pit road up.”

Kurt Busch’s Indianapolis 500/Coke 600 double ended early when the engine of the No. 41 Stewart-Haas Chevrolet erupted on Lap 273 to cause the sixth caution of the evening.

Busch finished sixth in the Indy 500 earlier in the day but completed just 271 laps (406.5 miles) at Charlotte, leaving his car owner, Tony Stewart, as the only driver to complete all 1,100 miles of the same-day double.

“To feel the stock car right after driving the IndyCar is a day I’ll never forget,” said Busch, who finished 40th. “I can’t let the mood here, with the car, dampen what happened up in Indy today. That was very special.”

Notes: Jeff Gordon retained the series lead by 11 points over Kenseth… Danica Patrick started fourth but lost positions with handling issues. She was the victim of a wreck on Lap 235, but that wasn’t the worst of her troubles. On Lap 286, the engine in Patrick’s no. 10 Chevy expired, and she retired in 39th place.

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Keselowski to Again Host Past Checkered Flag Foundation Honoree

By Kelly Crandall (CONCORD, N.C.) – In connection with his successful Checkered Flag Foundation, Brad @Keselowski and luxury jewelry company David Yurman are teaming to honor one of his 2013 honorees.

Keselowski and Yurman will hold an open house on Wednesday, May 28 from 6:00-8:00 p.m. at the Southpark Mall in Charlotte. The charity event will see the launch of its Frontier Collection, as well have part of the proceeds benefit Charlotte native Jacob Lerner.

A Purple Heart recipient from the United States Army, Lerner was serving in Afghanistan in 2007 when the vehicle he was riding in ran over an explosive device. Lerner survived only to step on landmine, which resulted in the loss of his foot and injuring an arm.

The Keselowski – Lerner connection however, goes much further. Not only was Lerner honored by the Checkered Flag Foundation last year, he also interned at Brad Keselowski Racing and is hoping to work his way into the sport as part of a NASCAR team. Lerner also joined Keselowski at Charlotte Motor Speedway in the past for a ride around the track.

For more on Lerner’s story you can see the YouTube video below.

Keselowski launched the Checkered Flag Foundation in 2010, with a purpose to support all those who have sacrificed for their country. That includes military members, veterans, first responders and their families. They’re often provided VIP experiences at the racetrack.

Sunday night, Keselowski will drive a red, white and blue No. 2 Miller Lite Ford in the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte. Last year, the foundation hosted injured military and first responders at Charlotte during Sprint All-Star Race weekend, in which they rode around the track with Keselowski at full speed in the Race 2 Recovery Ford Fusion racecar used by the foundation.

The military, not just through is foundation or a past in driving a Navy sponsored car, holds a special place for the 2012 Sprint Cup champion. Keselowski wrote in his newest blog post that had it not been for NASCAR he would have gone into the military, which would have followed the footsteps of many in his family. Including his grandfathers and sister Dawn.

“But that was always my plan. If racing hadn’t worked out, I would have joined the military,” he wrote. “Because I’d heard about it from other family members, I was fascinated with the discipline, the mental strength that it takes to be a member of the military and the code of self-sacrifice and honor that goes with it. And I was also impressed by people who were really looking to make something of their lives and took that route.”

After every win, Keselowski flies the American flag outside his No. 2 on his way to Victory Lane.

“It’s not coincidence that the biggest racing weekend of the year is on Memorial Day. NASCAR was created in 1948, three years after World War II had ended. It was created by a lot of war veterans, and a lot of the garage is populated with former military because the lifestyle is so similar,” Keselowski wrote in the closing. “You’re kind of a gypsy in some ways. You need to have a lot of discipline and be able to follow orders, or somebody could get hurt, potentially fatally.

“Because of that, there’s a real affinity between the racing community and the military world that doesn’t exist in any other sport, as far as I can tell. My guess is that there probably always will be. And if I can play some small part in perpetuation that, I would be very proud.”

Wednesday’s gathering will feature cocktails, hors d’oeuvres and some shopping.

EMAIL KELLY AT kelly.crandall@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @KellyCrandall