RICHMOND, Va. — Brad Keselowski couldn’t have been happier with the way his Friday unfolded at Richmond International Raceway.

Keselowski ran a lap at 126.618 mph to win the pole for the NASCAR Sprint Cup race Saturday night and said he has set his sights on breaking a five-way tie for the series victory lead to gain an advantage in NASCAR’s playoffs.

The 16-driver field for the Chase for the championship will be finalized after the race

“It’d be nice to put up another win and be kind of the lead dog, so to speak,” said Keselowski, tied for the series victory lead at three with Jeff Gordon, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jimmie Johnson and Joey Logano.

The Penske Racing driver has never won at Richmond, but thinks he might be ready to change that.

“This is by far the best car I’ve had” in 11 visits to Richmond, he said. “I feel like we have a really strong shot at winning this weekend, so I’m very, very excited. Everybody says they’re excited, but when you are sitting on the pole, and fastest in practice, you have good reason to be excited.”

The pole also is his fourth of the season after he entered the year with three in his career. It also allows him to grab the first pit stall, giving him a clear path back onto the track after pit stops.

“I think on the short tracks, the first pit stall is probably more important than anywhere else,” he said.

Gordon was a distant second at 126.039 mph, followed by Johnson, his Hendrick Motorsports teammate, at 125.898.

Kevin Harvick was fourth, and Logano five. The sixth-best qualifier – and first of the 17 drivers with a chance to win his way into the Chase for the championship – was Clint Bowyer, who also happens to consider the 0.75-mile oval his best track.

“We have nowhere to go but up,” Bowyer said.

KYLE BUSCH led from start to finish, usually by plenty, and ended an eight-race winless streak in the NASCAR Nationwide Series with his fifth career victory at Richmond International Raceway.

Busch started on the pole, routinely built leads of several seconds and was never really challenged Friday night.

Kevin Harvick appeared to be closing in on him with about 40 laps to go, then began to fade again.

TONY STEWART, subdued and walking with a limp, made his way through the Richmond garage with a gaggle of fans trailing him from his car. He silently signed everything shoved in his hands and then disappeared into his transporter.

Stewart returned to racing a week ago for the first time since his sprint car struck and killed Kevin Ward Jr. at an upstate New York dirt track. He’d spent three weeks in seclusion following Ward’s Aug. 9 death, and returned to a NASCAR community eager to embrace the three-time champion in his time of grief.

But he was a solitary figure at Richmond International Raceway, where his car wasn’t great and the crowd seemed willing to give him his space.

“He’s just plugging away, trying to get back in the groove. He’s quiet,” said Greg Zipadelli, vice president of competition at Stewart-Haas Racing.

Stewart was granted a waiver by NASCAR last week that will permit him to participate in the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship should he qualify. His only shot is by winning Saturday at Richmond because a victory is an automatic berth. Stewart qualified 19th, his best starting spot at Richmond in four years.

NATIONWIDE will be the primary sponsor for Dale Earnhardt Jr. starting next season under an expanded agreement with Hendrick Motorsports.

Nationwide had already signed on for 12 races for NASCAR’s most popular driver, but picked up an additional nine races for next season to push its total to 21. The deal runs through the 2017 season and includes the Daytona 500.

Nationwide is making its debut on Earnhardt’s car this weekend at Richmond.

CHAMPIONSHIP LEADER Nico Rosberg was fastest in the second practice session for the Italian Grand Prix, while Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton was hindered by car problems.

Hamilton was more than half a second ahead of the pack in the morning session but took part only in the final half hour of the afternoon’s 90-minute practice due to an electrical problem.

The Briton completed just 16 laps and was only six hundredths of a second slower than Rosberg, who clocked 1 minute, 26.225 seconds in the course of 41 laps.


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