Brad Keselowski's path to the Sprint Cup title got a boost when he gained the pole for today's Ford EcoBoost 400 after pole-sitter Joey Logano went to a backup car because of a wreck in practice.
"He's smiling," said Denny Hamlin, who was part of the crash with Greg Biffle, both of whom also went to backups. "He's smiling for sure."
Keselowski, who had inside position on Row 2 after qualifying third, moved up as Logano has to start in the rear. That gives Keselowski, 20 points ahead of Jimmie Johnson, a prime chance to lead the first lap and gain a valuable bonus point.
For Logano, it was the second straight week getting gobbled up by a crash. He was part of the Jeff Gordon-Clint Bowyer debacle at Phoenix that sparked a brawl between the teams.
"I was the innocent bystander once again," Logano said. "I drove into it. It's unfortunate."
The chain of events began with Biffle and Hamlin running hard and into the sun out of Turn 4.
"They kind of hooked each other and they just went straight up into the fence," Logano said. "I was already on top, so they just kind of drove right into me. It's just a bummer going from first to last."
"I was just running down the straightaway and got hooked on the right rear," said Hamlin, Logano's teammate at Joe Gibbs Racing. "Just a crappy way to start."
But perhaps good luck for Keselowski, who has not won a pole this season.
"I'll do what I can to lead the first lap," he said. "I think I have the car to do it."
CHANGES: Next season's Gen-6 car will for the first time have sponsor names on roofs and driver names across the tops of front windshields.
THE PENSKE FILE: Roger Penske's cars have won 12 open-wheel championships and 15 Indianapolis 500 titles. But auto racing's most iconic owner has never captured a championship in NASCAR's top series.
That will change if Keselowski, who drives Penske's No. 2 Dodge, wins the Sprint Cup title.
"I'm a goal-oriented person," Penske said. "And there's no question that winning a NASCAR championship at the elite level is something everybody in racing wants to accomplish. To me, this is about an opportunity."
Penske, 75, who hasn't sniffed a Sprint Cup title since Rusty Wallace finished second and third, respectively, in 1993 and '94, is a hands-on owner. He even works as a spotter.
"One of our goals is to win this championship," said Penske, who won the 2010 Nationwide series title with Keselowski. "I kid these guys and say, 'I don't want to sit down in the front row anymore. I want to be up on stage so I see who's at the party.' "
ODDS AND ENDS: Kyle Busch's lap of 168.476 mph led Sprint Cup's final practice. ... Tampa's Aric Almirola will continue next season to drive for Richard Petty Motorsports. "We've seen a little bit of improvement with him in every race," Petty said. ... To commemorate his 20th season in the No. 24 Chevrolet, Gordon's car will have a red and metallic silver paint scheme. ... Tony Stewart's 500th Sprint Cup start means nothing more than, "I'm getting old," he said.
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Sprint Cup points
With one race left in the Chase for the Championship, only the top two drivers are mathematically eligible to win the title.
Dale Earnhardt Jr.......2211........160
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SPRINT CUP SCOUTING REPORT
Ford EcoBoost 400, 3 p.m. today, ESPN
Silly season is in full swing, with not only talk of who will drive where in 2013, but reports of 2014 moves (like Kevin Harvick) coming out. Last week was full of fines, from Brad Keselowski getting hit for carrying a phone in his car to Jeff Gordon's $100,000 penalty for wrecking Clint Bowyer. That one, famously, led to an all-out brawl between pit crews and Bowyer hopping out of his mangled car and breaking into a sprint to try to get a piece of Gordon in his trailer. Amid all that chaos, it seems like we have forgotten something ... oh right, we still need to crown a Sprint Cup champion. Keselowski leads Jimmie Johnson by 20 points and only needs to finish 15th to earn his first Cup crown as well as the first for team owner Roger Penske. Seems pretty likely; Keselowski has only one finish out of the top 15 since mid June and his worst Chase result is 11th. He has never finished in the top 10 at Homestead, but then again he has reset personal bests all season.