This March 8 photo shows Brad Keselowski during driver introductions prior to the NASCAR Cup Series auto race at Phoenix Raceway in Avondale, Ariz. Keselowski will start on the pole when the NASCAR season resumes Sunday, in Darlington, S.C. The 2012 Cup champion earned the top starting spot through a random draw.

Brad Keselowski celebrated his first pole win of the season — and perhaps the most memorable of his career — from afar.

After waiting nearly a full hour Thursday evening, the Team Penske driver watched NASCAR’s chief scorer Kyle McKinney finally pluck the No. 1 ball out of a random draw — giving the 2012 sereis champion the top starting position when the Cup season resumes Sunday at Darlington Raceway.

“1st. Woooooo,” Keselowski wrote on Twitter.

Of course, it’s NASCAR’s first race in months, due to the COVID-19 virus that brought sports — and just about everything else — to a halt. There won’t be fans in the stands on Sunday, but it’s one more sport that will return gradually, with this being that first step.

The race begins at 2:30 p.m. Central time, televised on FOX. The drivers will make 293 laps at Darlington, 400 miles.

Keselowski will be joined on the front row by Alex Bowman of Hendrick Motorsports. Matt DiBenedetto, Kyle Busch and Aric Almirola close out the top five starting spots.

For some, NASCAR’s revised system worked like a dream. Keselowski, the 2018 Southern 500 winner, jumped from 10th in the standings to first on the 36-car starting grid.

For others, like points leader Kevin Harvick, things didn’t end up so well. The Stewart-Haas Racing driver drew the No. 6 slot.

And aside from the luck of the draw, there was nothing the drivers could do except wait, watch and hope.

Series officials split the drivers into three groups of 12 based on points, filling spots 1-12, 13-24 and 25-36 with a random draw. Now, without qualifications, practice runs or fans, those cars will line up on one of NASCAR’s most prestigious tracks for the first major race since March.

Most have spent their time, especially the last couple of weeks, using simulators to prepare.

“To be honest with you, I kind of get sick in the thing.” Clint Bowyer told the television audience before drawing the No. 13 starting spot. “So I’ve been working on things like the entrance to pit road, something that is very, very difficult at this track. It’s going to be a green race track and that’s something everybody’s going to deal with.”

The focus won’t just be on the lead pack.

Ryan Newman will make his first start since a frightening crash at the season-opening Daytona 500. The Roush Fenway Racing driver was cleared to drive following a run at, yes, Darlington and will start 21st.

Two-time Daytona 500 winner and 2003 series champion Matt Kenseth will return to the track for the first time since November 2018 after coming out of retirement to replace the fired Kyle Larson for Chip Ganassi’s team. He drew the No. 12 slot.

“Race week is here! In some ways I feel like I did my rookie year… mostly because I just had to wait on @DaleJr,” Kenseth posted on his Twitter account earlier this week.



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