There aren't many people who can hold off Jimmie Johnson, especially not this year. Brad Keselowski, one of the few who's gone toe-to-toe against Johnson and walked away on top, did so again on Friday at qualifying for Sunday's Camping World RV Sales 301 in Loudon, New Hampshire.
The 48 team had trouble clearing their car out of tech because of minor issues with weight and a side skirt. NASCAR put the car on a five-minute time clock, but Johnson made it in time. He then went out and won the provisional pole, but the booing fans in attendance didn't even have time to get up to full roar before Keselowski snatched the pole away from him. [UPDATE: Johnson's qualifying effort was disqualified because he failed post-qualifying inspection. He will now start 43rd. More information as it becomes available.]
This is just Keselowski's third pole; his first came in September 2010 at this same track. It's a much-needed boost for the defending champ, who's currently sitting in 13th and several points out of the Chase wild-card hunt.
Rounding out the top 5 are Kurt Busch, once again turning in a strong early-weekend effort; Dale Earnhardt Jr., who briefly held the pole with a track record; and Kyle Busch. The rest of the top 10, in order: Jeff Gordon, Carl Edwards, Denny Hamlin, Kasey Kahne, and Jeff Burton checking in from the early 2000s.
Other notables: Tony Stewart (17), Clint Bowyer (21), Danica Patrick (33). Morgan Shepherd, who will be the oldest driver to start his engines in a Sprint Cup race, finished last among drivers who completed qualifying laps. His best time of 128.290 mph was nearly eight miles per hour slower than Keselowski's time, which doesn't bode well for Shepherd's chances for the race on Sunday.