Sprint Cup Series driver Brad Keselowski (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

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 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.”

The pole is his fourth of the season after he entered the year with three in his career. It also allows his 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 fifth. 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,” he said. “I really do feel like we’re a top-five car for sure and anytime you’re a top-five car, with a little bit of adjusting, some help, some luck, whatever the case, you can win these races.”

Gordon and Johnson felt fortunate to fare so well after a difficult day.

“It’s been really stressful to be honest,” Johnson said of practice and qualifying, held in sunshine and 90-degree heat. The conditions bear little resemblance to what they will race on — a nighttime start in cooler conditions.


BUSCH NEVER TRAILS TO PREVAIL: In Richmond, Virginia, Kyle Busch led from start to finish, usually by plenty, and ended an eight-race winless streak in the 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 challenged. It was the second time in his career that he led a race in the series from start to finish. He also was the last person to have done it, the first time in Phoenix in February 2011.

Kevin Harvick appeared to be closing in on him with about 40 laps to go, then began to fade again. The sixth caution bunched the field for a restart with 18 laps to go, and Busch again made quick work of it, cruising to his record-extending 67th victory in the series. He won by 1.323 seconds.