Jul 12, 2013, 7:45 PM EDT
The reigning Sprint Cup champion, Brad Keselowski, will lead the field to the green flag on Sunday at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, while the current championship leader, Jimmie Johnson, will have to rally from dead last on the grid.
Keselowski’s lap at 135.922 mph around the “Magic Mile” was enough to give him his first pole of the season, which could prove to be a critical boost for Sunday as he looks to stop a slide that has threatened his chances to make this year’s Chase.
“We are eager to get going, we are hungry and feel like we can do it but I don’t feel a sense of panic,” said Keselowski, who has fallen to 13th in the standings. “There are still two months of racing essentially to get into the Chase. We have fast race cars and if we do our part, we don’t need any help. If we do our part, we don’t even need any luck. We just need to do our jobs and I feel like we have got the team to do just that.”
As for Johnson, he was slated to start on the outside of the front row. But in post-qualifying inspection, the front end of his No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet failed a height stick test on both sides, which were found to be too low.
As a result, his time was disallowed and the five-time Cup champ will have to start 43rd in the Camping World RV Sales 301.
Johnson also had problems going into the qualifying session, saying prior to NASCAR’s ruling that the car had to go through inspection twice because of issues involving the side skirt height and weight placement.
With Johnson knocked back to the rear of the field, Furniture Row Racing’s Kurt Busch will take over P2 on Sunday’s grid after posting a lap at 135.835 mph despite hitting the rev limiter at the start of his qualifying run.
“I was on the rev chip so early, I was like ‘We must be going that fast’ or we even dialed our rev chip back too far,” said Busch. “These guys are just incredible. The things that they are finding and the speed we are bolting on…We are doing okay if we can manage all this weirdness and still be fast.”
Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Kyle Busch will make up Row 2, followed by Jeff Gordon and Carl Edwards in Row 3. Denny Hamlin and defending race winner Kasey Kahne will go off from Row 4, and Jeff Burton and Juan Pablo Montoya will be in Row 5.