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Keselowski on pole for NASCAR Las Vegas stop, Truex Jr. 2nd

(AP Photo/John Amis)

By MIKE CRANSTON

Associated Press

LAS VEGAS (AP) Brad Keselowski will begin his bid for a third victory in the past four NASCAR Cup races at Las Vegas Motor Speedway from the pole after topping qualifying Friday night.

Keselowski, who also won last week's race at Atlanta, made up ground in the final two turns and posted a top seed of 193.68 mph in his No. 2 Ford for his 13th career pole. He won at the 1.5-mile track last year and in 2014.

"We found some things we really liked here about three or four years ago and we've been able to kind of roll with that," Keselowski said.

Martin Truex Jr., who was the fastest in the midday practice, will join him on the front row Sunday in the 400-mile race thanks to a speed of 193.458 mph in his No. 78 Toyota.

"We were really strong in practice and thought it would pick up quite a bit of speed tonight and it really didn't," Truex said. "So that threw us for a little bit of a curve and kind of hurt our setup. But it was a good recovery. We made a lot of changes throughout qualifying and got better at the end."

Ryan Blaney will start third in his Ford, and Matt Kenseth qualified fourth on his 45th birthday.

Kyle Larson was fifth, followed by Joey Logano, Kasey Kahne, rookie Erik Jones, Las Vegas native Kyle Busch and Jamie McMurray.

Daniel Suarez will start 11th and Chase Elliott 12th.

Keselowski believes the new stage racing format this season has boosted qualifying's importance in the race weekend. The first segment Sunday ends on the 45th lap.

"Now it matters more than ever because it gives you a prime opportunity to win that first stage and collect those points both for the season and for the playoffs," Keselowski said.

Daytona 500 champion Kurt Busch failed to get out of the second qualifying round and will start 17th. His Stewart-Haas Racing teammate and series points leader Kevin Harvick struggled and will being 19th.

Clint Bowyer (13th) just missed getting into the last round. Defending series champion Jimmie Johnson will start 16th and teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr. 18th.

Kyle Busch was the fastest in the first qualifying round and Danica Patrick (28th) was among those outside the top 25 who failed to advance. AJ Allmendinger knocked out his teammate Chris Buescher by posting a faster lap seconds before the 20-minute session ended

"I thought AJ and I were better friends than that," joked Buescher, who will start 25th.

With only 39 cars entered, open drivers Corey LaJoie (34th), Derrike Cope (38th) and Timmy Hill (39th) all made the field.

Updated March 10, 2017

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