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Friday December 4th, 2020 3:02AM

Keselowski draws pole for NASCAR's return to Darlington

By Michael Marot - AP Sports Writer
  Contact Editor

Brad Keselowski celebrated his first pole win of the season — and perhaps the most memorable of his career — from afar.

After waiting nearly a full hour Thursday evening, the Team Penske driver watched NASCAR's chief scorer Kyle McKinney finally pluck the No. 1 ball out of a random draw — giving the 2012 sereis champion the top starting position when the Cup season resumes Sunday at Darlington Raceway.

“1st. Woooooo," Keselowski wrote on Twitter.

He will be joined on the front row by Alex Bowman of Hendrick Motorsports. Matt DiBenedetto, Kyle Busch and Aric Almirola close out the top five starting spots.

For some, NASCAR's revised system worked like a dream. Keselowski, the 2018 Southern 500 winner, jumped from 10th in the standings to first on the 36-car starting grid.

For others, like points leader Kevin Harvick, things didn't end up so well. The Stewart-Haas Racing driver drew the No. 6 slot.

And aside from the luck of the draw, there was nothing the drivers could do except wait, watch and hope.

Series officials split the drivers into three groups of 12 based on points, filling spots 1-12, 13-24 and 25-36 with a random draw. Now, without qualifications, practice runs or fans, those cars will line up on one of NASCAR's most prestigious tracks for the first major race since March.

Most have spent their time, especially the last couple of weeks, using simulators to prepare.

“To be honest with you, I kind of get sick in the thing." Clint Bowyer told the television audience before drawing the No. 13 starting spot. “So I’ve been working on things like the entrance to pit road, something that is very, very difficult at this track. It’s going to be a green race track and that’s something everybody’s going to deal with.”

The focus won't just be on the lead pack.

Ryan Newman will make his first start since a frightening crash at the season-opening Daytona 500. The Roush Fenway Racing driver was cleared to drive following a run at, yes, Darlington and will start 21st.

Two-time Daytona 500 winner and 2003 series champion Matt Kenseth will return to the track for the first time since November 2018 after coming out of retirement to replace the fired Kyle Larson for Chip Ganassi's team. He drew the No. 12 slot.

“Race week is here! In some ways I feel like I did my rookie year… mostly because I just had to wait on @DaleJr," Kenseth posted on his Twitter account earlier this week.

Each car will carry the name of a front-line worker during the COVID-19 pandemic, and after weeks of waiting to race, things will rev up in a harry.

Series officials also announced Tuesday they had expanded the schedule to include 20 races between Sunday and late June — nine in the elite Cup Series.

Now, after taking the first step toward racing since early March, the drivers are eager for the biggest restart yet.

“Heck yeah, let’s go," said Austin Dillon, the Richard Childress driver who will start 16th. “Just happy to be getting back out on the track.”

WDUN will carry live MRN Radio coverage of Sunday's NASCAR Cup Series race at Darlington Raceway, beginning at 2:30 pm on 102.9 FM, AM 550 and streaming live on AccessWDUN.

NASCAR Cup Series
Darlington Raceway - Darlington, SC
The Real Heroes 400 - May 14, 2020

Sunday's Starting Lineup

1.    2    Brad Keselowski    Discount Tire Ford    0.000    0.000
2.    88    Alex Bowman    ChevyGoods.com NOCO Chevrolet    0.000    0.000
3.    21    Matt DiBenedetto    Motorcraft/Quick Lane Ford    0.000    0.000
4.    18    Kyle Busch    M&M's Toyota    0.000    0.000
5.    10    Aric Almirola    Smithfield Ford    0.000    0.000
6.    4    Kevin Harvick    Busch Light #YOURFACEHERE Ford    0.000    0.000
7.    12    Ryan Blaney    Menards/Duracell Ford    0.000    0.000
8.    48    Jimmie Johnson    Ally Chevrolet    0.000    0.000
9.    22    Joey Logano    Shell Pennzoil Ford    0.000    0.000
10.    11    Denny Hamlin    FedEx Thank You Toyota    0.000    0.000
11.    9    Chase Elliott    NAPA Auto Parts Chevrolet    0.000    0.000
12.    42    Matt Kenseth    Credit One Bank Chevrolet    0.000    0.000
13.    14    Clint Bowyer    Rush Trucking/Mobil 1 Ford    0.000    0.000
14.    41    Cole Custer #    HaasTooling.com Ford    0.000    0.000
15.    19    Martin Truex, Jr.    Bass Pro Shops Toyota    0.000    0.000
16.    3    Austin Dillon    Symbicort Chevrolet    0.000    0.000
17.    43    Bubba Wallace    World Wide Technology Chevrolet    0.000    0.000
18.    24    William Byron    Axalta Chevrolet    0.000    0.000
19.    32    Corey LaJoie    Drydene Ford    0.000    0.000
20.    20    Erik Jones    DeWalt Atomic Thank You Toyota    0.000    0.000
21.    6    Ryan Newman    Oscar Mayer Ford    0.000    0.000
22.    1    Kurt Busch    Monster Energy Chevrolet    0.000    0.000
23.    47    Ricky Stenhouse Jr.    Kroger Chevrolet    0.000    0.000
24.    17    Chris Buescher    Fastenal Ford    0.000    0.000
25.    37    Ryan Preece    Cottonelle Chevrolet    0.000    0.000
26.    53    Garrett Smithley #    Trophy Tractor Chevrolet    0.000    0.000
27.    00    Quin Houff #    UNITS Chevrolet    0.000    0.000
28.    95    Christopher Bell #    Rheem Toyota    0.000    0.000
29.    8    Tyler Reddick #    Caterpillar Chevrolet    0.000    0.000
30.    27    JJ Yeley(i)    Jacob Construction Ford    0.000    0.000
31.    34    Michael McDowell    CarParts.com Ford    0.000    0.000
32.    51    Joey Gase(i)    Agri Supply Ford    0.000    0.000
33.    13    Ty Dillon    GEICO Chevrolet    0.000    0.000
34.    38    John Hunter Nemechek #    Citgard Ford    0.000    0.000
35.    15    Brennan Poole #    SpartanGO Chevrolet    0.000    0.000
36.    77    Reed Sorenson    Bon Secours #TheRealHeroes Chevrolet    0.000    0.000
37.    96    Daniel Suarez    Today.Tomorrow.Toyota Toyota    0.000    0.000
38.    66    Timmy Hill(i)    RoofClaim.com Toyota    0.000    0.000
39.    78    BJ McLeod(i)     Chevrolet    0.000    0.000
40.    7    Josh Bilicki(i)    Gravely Chevrolet    0.000    0.000

 

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