Brad Keselowski wins Phoenix pole under new NASCAR qualifying rules

AVONDALE, Ariz. — Brad Keselowski on Friday won the pole position for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Phoenix International Raceway under a new qualifying format in which large groups of drivers raced simultaneously for the first time in the series.

Instead of having one car at a time go around the track in qualifying, NASCAR began using a knockout format to set the starting spots for the 43-car field for Sunday's Cup race.

At tracks less than 1.25 miles long, such as the one-mile PIR oval, qualifying was broken into two sessions.

The first session Friday certainly was a radical departure for Cup qualifying.

The entire 43-car field faced a 30-minute time limit to turn in their qualifying laps. Then, after a 10-minute break, the 12 fastest cars from that first session advanced to a second, 10-minute qualifying session.

When qualifying started, the cars were parked at an angle facing the pit wall, as though they were parked at a local supermarket.

Many drivers promptly ran a couple of laps to set their initial speeds, then would drive markedly slower for a couple of more laps to cool their engines before parking. As a result, no more than a dozen drivers were racing at the same time in the first session.

Meanwhile, the other drivers waited several minutes before making another qualifying attempt.

Not Keselowski, who quickly set one of the fastest laps in his No. 2 Team Penske Ford to become one of the dozen drivers who advanced to the second round.

"I'm not a very patient guy," said Keselowski, the 2012 Cup champion. "I can't sit and watch other cars run; it drives me crazy."

Then in the second session, Keselowski set a track record of 139.384 mph to win the pole. He was followed by his teammate Joey Logano at 139.265 mph.

The result was cars circling the Phoenix track at various speeds, which didn't sit well with some drivers.

"I didn't know if anybody was held up" by the slower cars, Jimmie Johnson said. "A lot of guys were cooling down to make a second run later. I'm not sure it was a big issue today."

Jamie McMurray qualified third, Johnson was fourth and Dale Earnhardt Jr., who won the season-opening Daytona 500 last Sunday, qualified fifth.

Among the drivers who failed to reach the second round were Kevin Harvick (13th), Tony Stewart (20th), Austin Dillon (24th) and Danica Patrick (33rd).

NASCAR made the changes to try and add more excitement to qualifying day.

Earlier Friday, Earnhardt showed he'd carried momentum from Daytona by recording the fastest lap, at 138.723 mph, in the Cup series' sole practice session in his No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet.

Then, Earnhardt — a longtime Twitter holdout who finally joined the social-media site after his Daytona 500 win — tweeted that he hoped "the weather stays away Saturday. We need a bit more time in race trim."

Rain was forecast as likely for the Phoenix area on Saturday.

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