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Vickers will sit on Richmond pole

Associated Press

RICHMOND, Va. – Brian Vickers turned a lap at 127.131 mph to win the pole position for tonight’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Richmond International Raceway.

Vickers was the 10th driver on the track in qualifying Friday night, and his speed held up as notable short-track qualifiers Jeff Gordon and hometown star Denny Hamlin made runs at him.

Gordon got the closest at 126.844 mph, but he was forced to settle for the outside of the front row. Hamlin will start third after a lap at 126.665, with Martin Truex Jr. fourth.

“The car was unbelievable,” Vickers said. “I told the guys when I came across the line that it was a pretty good one. Whether it was going to be able to hold up, I wasn’t sure.”

The pole is the seventh of Vickers’ career and second this season. He also started first in the second race at Fontana, Calif. It also is his second at Richmond, where he set the track qualifying mark five years ago with a lap at 129.983 mph on the 0.75-mile oval.

The wide difference in qualifying speed isn’t surprising, he said, because the track has worn over time and the switch to the Car of Tomorrow has also slowed things.

“We probably have as good of a car or better to go compete for a win, and obviously five years of experience is priceless when it comes to racing in this series,” Vickers said.

Gordon, a five-time pole-sitter at Richmond, was both disappointed and excited.

“You always pick the lap apart trying to figure out where you could be a little bit better no matter where you qualify, but especially when you are that close to being on the pole,” he said. “Brian laid down a great lap … We came close, but not good enough.”

Busch wins Nationwide

Kyle Busch passed Carl Edwards on the first lap of a restart with 22 laps to go and won the NASCAR Nationwide Series race.

Busch, who led four times in the Lipton Tea 250, made the move that counted in the third and fourth turns on the 229th trip around the three-quarter-mile oval. Edwards led the previous 71 laps, with Busch seemingly the only other driver with a car to contend.

The Sprint Cup star proved it on the final two restarts – with eight laps to go and again with five laps remaining – by pulling away by a few car-lengths heading into the first turn each time.

The victory was Busch’s third in nine starts this season and 13th since the start of last season, when he missed five races but won 10 and finished sixth in the point standings.

Edwards held on to finish second, followed by Matt Kenseth and Brad Keselowski.

Gordon visits doctor

Chronic back pain sent Jeff Gordon back to the doctor this week, and the four-time NASCAR champion is hopeful he’s moved a step closer to diagnosing his problem.

Gordon said he underwent an MRI, but was not ready to discuss the full results.

“When I know how we’re going to treat it, I’ll let you guys know,” he said. “I don’t believe it’s anything serious, it’s just something that’s causing the pain. There’s a little bit of arthritis, which is not totally unnatural. But there are also some other things that come, from what they can understand, from trauma, from a crash, or maybe just from years of beating it up.

“Heck, I might have picked up my luggage or something and tore something up in there. So I don’t know.”

Gordon suffered through back pain last year, his first winless season since his 1993 rookie year. He only revealed the issue at the start of this season when he began using a trainer to help him properly stretch his back before and after races.

Keselowski needs ride

Brad Keselowski wants to race full time next season in the Sprint Cup Series, he’s just not sure where he’ll find the seat.

His first choice is Hendrick Motorsports. NASCAR’s newest Cup winner is exclusively negotiating with Hendrick on a long-term contract. He currently races full-time in the Nationwide Series for JR Motorsports, and has a developmental deal with Hendrick that runs through the end of the year.

“The key part of it is to stick with what got you where you’re at,” Keselowski said. “Having competitive cars and support from Hendrick Motorsports is what got me to Victory Lane at Talladega (last week).

“It’s hard to run from that, but at the same time there isn’t a clear opportunity. So we have to see how that works out.”

Keselowski was earmarked as Mark Martin’s eventual replacement at Hendrick. But Martin has indicated he’s considering running a full season in 2010, which would delay Keselowski’s promotion to the Cup series.

His stock skyrocketed last week, though, when he pulled out a surprise victory at Talladega. If Hendrick can’t find the right Cup opportunity for Keselowski, it just might lose the budding 25-year-old.

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