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NASCAR: Matt Kenseth on pole for Chase finale

Associated Press

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HOMESTEAD, Fla.: Matt Kenseth and his Joe Gibbs Racing team took a huge step away from their bad performance last week by winning the pole Friday at Homestead-Miami Speedway for the championship-deciding race.

Kenseth turned a lap at 177.667 mph in his Toyota to claim the top starting spot for Sunday’s race. He called it “a confidence booster” after his 23rd-place finish at Phoenix essentially ruined his title chances.

He was trailing Jimmie Johnson by seven points going into Phoenix and left the race down 28 with just one race to decide the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship. But the pole, his third of the season and 11th of his career, is a start toward a big rebound.

“I think more than morale, it’s probably a confidence booster,” Kenseth said. “The thing is, Jimmie is so far ahead, that even if he does have a problem we need to be in the front to be able to capitalize on that. This is a good start to that, hopefully get a bonus point right away, get the best pit stall. I think it’s important, we need to be up front and try to lead as much as we can and be in the mix at the end.”

Whether it’s enough remains to be seen. Johnson, who needs only to finish 23rd or better Sunday to win his sixth championship, qualified seventh.

He feels good about his situation.

“It’s a great position to be in, there’s no doubt about it,” Johnson said. “It’s nice, but it doesn’t guarantee anything. I have to run all 400 miles on Sunday and that’s really the goal for this Lowe’s car.”

Kevin Harvick is the only other driver mathematically eligible to win the title and goes into the race 34 points behind Johnson. He qualified one spot ahead of Johnson in sixth after internalizing too long about how to make his qualifying run.

“I argued with myself for an hour or two there, before that qualifying session, as to where I was going to run,” Harvick said. “I thought I needed to run the bottom in [turns] three and four. All-in-all it was a good lap.”

Kurt Busch qualified second to earn his ninth front row starting position of the season and Joey Logano was third.

Brad Keselowski will start fourth in his final race as defending Sprint Cup champion and was followed by Denny Hamlin.

Martin Truex Jr. will start eighth in his final race with Michael Waltrip Racing, while Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Elliott Sadler rounded out the top 10.

Hornish staying put

Sam Hornish Jr. crossed off every goal in IndyCar before leaving the series for NASCAR.

With three championships and an Indianapolis 500 victory, he felt there was nothing left for him to achieve.

Now, with one of the best seats in the series suddenly open, Hornish hasn’t changed his mind.

Hornish said Friday he has no interest in returning to IndyCar to replace Dario Franchitti at Target Chip Ganassi Racing. Hornish said the team reached out to his representatives this week when Franchitti was told by doctors he can no longer race because the risk of injury is too great.

“I expressed I was very grateful even for the call,” Hornish said. “A door opens and the reason still stands to not do it. It’s just any time I’ve had a thought or thought about that at all, it’s been like very minimal.”

Crafton wins Truck title

Matt Crafton won the NASCAR Truck Series championship, his first in 13 seasons.

Crafton only needed to start the 200-mile season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway on Friday night to win the title.

So when his engine fired and he took the track, it was official even before the green flag dropped.

Crafton essentially wrapped up the championship last week at Phoenix.

He entered the finale with a nearly insurmountable 46-point lead over Ty Dillon.

Crafton extended his record for the most consecutive starts in the Truck Series to 316. He has just one victory this season — he won at Kansas in April — but has a remarkable 19 top-10 finishes in 22 starts.

Crafton was rewarded with a contract extension with ThorSport Racing on Thursday.


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