SPARTA, Ky. – The questions during Sprint Cup qualifying Friday were about how many drivers would beat Kentucky Speedway’s speed record and by how much.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. provided the answer among the eight who broke the record, clocking 183.636 mph to wrest the pole for Saturday night’s race from Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jimmie Johnson.
Earnhardt’s speed was nearly 2 mph faster than Johnson’s 181.818 mph last June.
Minutes before, Johnson had a lap at 183.144 mph. Earnhardt set the standard in the No. 88 Chevy soon after and survived several furious attempts to unseat him before coming away with his 12th career pole and first at Kentucky.
Carl Edwards (183.306 mph) eventually grabbed the outside front in the No. 99 Ford. Johnson settled for third, with Kyle Busch (182.593) fourth in a Toyota.
Marcos Ambrose (182.587) qualified fifth in a Ford and will start alongside Denny Hamlin, whose No. 11 Toyota ran 182.340 mph. The other two over 182 mph were Ryan Newman (182.254), and defending race winner and Cup champion Brad Keselowski (182.192).
“I thought we had a good car in practice,” Earnhardt said, “and we got some cloud cover. That gave us an opportunity to run a good lap.”
Drivers believed a track record was possible with NASCAR’s new Gen 6 car, even on Kentucky’s bumpy surface. Anticipation grew even more with cooler-than-expected temperatures and intermittent clouds, and several drivers gave chase to Johnson’s mark early in the session.
“I feel good,” said Johnson, who checked his No. 48 Chevy for damage after hitting one of the track’s bumps and going airborne. “I felt (turns) one and two went really well. (Turns) three and four, I thought maybe I could have been a little faster through there.”
NATIONWIDE: Brad Keselowski took his final lead on the 156th lap and went on to a rain-shortened victory at Kentucky Speedway.
Showers halted the race at Lap 170 in the scheduled 200-lap event, but drivers were expecting it to resume before another pocket of rain forced officials to call it off. Elliott Sadler was second, followed by Matt Crafton, Brian Vickers and Kyle Busch.
FORMULA ONE: Along with new engines, the 2014 season will have plenty of other changes, including a penalty point system for drivers and expanded testing.
The penalty system is being introduced following a string of crashes involving young drivers in the past year.
Drivers would be banned from the next race if they accumulate 12 penalty points over a 12-month period. The amount of penalty points assessed would depend on the severity of the offense.