Brad Keselowski did not make a mock qualification run in practice, so it was difficult to predict how he would do in time trials. Looking back at his last two Richmond starts, one would not be overly enthused because he rolled off the grid seventh in this race last year and eighth this spring. He finished ninth and seventh respectively.
Keselowski saved his best setup for the evening, however, and with a lap of 127.185 mph he blistered the track and will lead the field to green. Starting position has been critical for Keselowski at Richmond in the past. The last two races ended within two spots of where he started. Kez won after leading the field to green in fall 2014; earlier that year, he finished fourth from the outside pole.
Keselowski paced the field by .105 seconds – a considerable amount on a short track.
Kevin Harvick has found something he really loves in qualification at Richmond Raceway. With a speed of 126.559 mph, he scored his third consecutive front row start. Starting up front has been good for Harvick because he has 10 top-10 starts in his last 11 races on this track and he’s finished in the top 10 in all but three of those races. In the events where he missed the top 10, he finished in the top 15.
Like Keselowski, Harvick claimed that he did not put down a qualification lap in practice.
Not only for Keselowski and Harvick, starting position is important across the board on short tracks. In this spring’s Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond Raceway, seven of the top 10 finishers started among the top 10 with the winner Martin Truex Jr. rolling off the grid fifth and pole sitter Kevin Harvick finishing fourth.
The only drivers who failed to finish in the top 10 after starting there were Kurt Busch (who missed by just one spot in 11th after starting second) Chris Buescher who finished 22nd after scoring a career-best Richmond start of seventh, and Kyle Larson who crashed and finished off the lead lap for the first time in his career after starting 10th.
Chase Elliott qualified third. The last time he started up front was in April, 2018 and his second-place start preceded a runner-up finish. Last fall he started 18th and finished fourth. One of the most promising stats for Elliott is that he has never failed to complete all the laps at Richmond.
Kyle Busch backed up a solid practice with a fourth-place effort in time trials. His lap of 126.103 mph reestablishes him at the front of the pack. After scoring five consecutive top-10 starts from 2015 through 2017, he slipped outside that mark for two races. This spring he qualified fourth also and was running well until a mistake in the pits cost track position. Busch finished eighth.
Bowyer rounds out the top five. This is only his second top-10 start in the last nine Richmond races. Poor track position to start the race has not been much of a detriment, however, because he has a current streak of three top-10s after starting 14th or worse.
Buescher was the most pleasant surprise this spring in qualification. This weekend, Michael McDowell almost grabbed his second consecutive top-10 start. After rolling off the grid 10th at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, he slipped to 24th at the end. This week he will start 11th, which is his best-ever on this track.
Jimmie Johnson was the last driver to hit the track and he became the highest-qualified among the non-playoff drivers. His lap of 125.180 was .016 seconds faster than McDowell and contributed to pushing him down the order.
Matt DiBenedetto qualified 12th and should be one of the top choices this week among non-playoff contenders.
Kurt Busch posted the ninth-best lap and extends a current streak of top-10 starts to 11 consecutive races. In that span of events, he has finished outside the top 15 only once. That was an 18th last fall after qualifying fifth.
The worst qualifier among the playoff contenders was Joey Logano. He rolled off pit road early while the track was hot and could manage only the 28th-best time. He struggled in qualification last week as well and we discounted his potential after he posted the 22nd-fastest time. He made a mockery of that prediction by winning Stage 1 of the South Point 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.