Avondale, AZ (SportsNetwork.com) – Denny Hamlin will start on the pole for the
Quicken Loans Race for Heroes 500 — the elimination race in the Eliminator
Round of the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship — after topping the charts
in Friday’s qualifying at Phoenix International Raceway.
Hamlin, who is one of the eight drivers remaining in the Chase, posted a lap
at 142.113 mph for his third pole of the season and the 20th of his Sprint Cup
Series career. It’s also his second pole in 19 races at Phoenix. He has one
victory in the series at this flat 1-mile track (March 2012).
“I hit my marks perfectly, and the adjustments just kept getting better and
better,” said Hamlin, the driver of the No. 11 Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing.
“(Crew chief) Darian (Grubb) and the whole FedEx (sponsor) team kept making my
Camry better. That allowed me to drive harder and harder. That’s a big
Phoenix will decide which four drivers will battle for the Sprint Cup
championship in the Nov. 16 season-ending race at Homestead.
None of the title contenders won at either Martinsville (Oct. 26) or Texas
(last Sunday). That means at least three of the four positions for Homestead
will be determined by points. If none of them wins at Phoenix, then all four
will be decided by points.
Just 18 points separate the eight drivers heading into Sunday’s 312-mile race
at Phoenix. Joey Logano and Hamlin share the points lead.
“A day like (Friday) just gives you a huge momentum boost going into not only
Sunday, but tomorrow (Saturday’s final practice),” Hamlin said. “We know what
my pit crew can do, and now we give them the number-one pit stall – a lot of
big bonuses there that gets included with getting this pole. Not only that,
but it also shows us that our car has got some speed.”
Brad Keselowski, currently seventh in Chase points (-17), will start alongside
Hamlin on the front row after making a lap at 142.079 mph. When the series
raced here in March, Keselowski started on the pole and finished third.
“We just missed it I guess by a couple thousandths of a second,” Keselowski
said. “We were close but was just a little bit off. Either way, it’s a good
start. We like that, and we’ve got to make the most of it come Sunday.”
Kevin Harvick, a record five-time race winner at Phoenix, qualified third at
141.995 mph. Harvick recorded the fastest lap in practice here earlier in the
day. He has won the last two races at this track.
“I just missed it by a little bit, but our Budweiser Chevrolet is really good
in race trim,” Harvick said. “We have to keep tweaking on it tomorrow (in
Harvick is eighth in points (-18).
Logano will start fourth. In the first of the two qualifying rounds here,
Logano set a new track record with a lap at 142.141 mph. The previous record
at Phoenix was 139.384 mph, set by his Team Penske teammate, Keselowski,
earlier this year.
“It’s a decent place to start,” Logano said. “We know what we have to do, but
this is the second time we came here and set a track record but didn’t start
first. We’re good at that this year. We’re good at going fast in the first
round and then it’s something we’re missing in the second round. We don’t
carry the speed over as well as others do, so we’ll figure it out.”
Matt Kenseth, who is fifth in the Chase standings (-13), qualified fifth,
followed by Kyle Busch, his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate, and Jeff Gordon, who is
fourth in points (-12).
Finishing eighth through 12th in the final round of qualifying were: rookie
Kyle Larson, Brian Vickers, Kurt Busch, Paul Menard and Casey Mears.
The remaining Chase drivers and their starting positions are Carl Edwards
(13th) and Ryan Newman (20th).
Newman is just two points behind Logano and Hamlin, while Edwards trails the
leaders by 13.
Clay Rogers was the only driver who failed to qualify for the race.