Martin Truex Jr., the defending Cup Series champion, will start first in Sunday’s race at ISM Raceway.
Martin Truex Jr. didn’t think he could carry the speed he had going into Turn 3 and with it his chance to win the pole was gone during qualifying Friday at ISM Raceway outside of Phoenix.
There was no need to be concerned. Truex was able to hang on to his Toyota and the defending NASCAR Cup Series champion posted a 136.945 mph average lap speed round the 1-mile track to earn the pole for Sunday’s Ticket Guardian 500. It is Truex’s first pole of the season and 16th of his 13-year career.
“I did get a little loose getting in (Turn 3) and thought for a second maybe I screwed up,” Truex said. “But I caught the brake and caught the front grip just enough to keep it off the seam in the middle of the corner.
“Hats off to the guys. They’ve done a great job today. We had a good game plan. We’ve qualified well here in the past, but we’ve been searching for those last couple of spots. We were fifth here in the fall. Good execution and a fun day today.”
Kyle Larson (136.643 mph) qualified second, with Chase Elliott third, Alex Bowman fourth and Denny Hamlin fifth. Kyle Busch, Jamie McMurray, Erik Jones, Kevin Harvick and Joey Logano completed the top 10. Rookie William Byron and Ryan Blaney were 11th and 12th, respectively.
Jimmie Johnson led the first round of three, but couldn’t muster enough speed in the second session to transfer to Round 3 — the only Hendrick Motorsports driver failing to do so (Elliott, Bowman, Byron). Johnson will start 16th on Sunday.
Brad Keselowski uncharacteristically struggled and in the waning seconds of Round 1 Kurt Busch bumped him out of the final transfer position. The Team Penske driver qualified 25th.
An incident involving Jeffrey Earnhardt momentarily stopped qualifying four minutes into the first round. Earnhardt lost control entering Turn 3, drifting up the track and smacking the outside retaining wall.
Because of substantial damage to the right front of the No. 00 Chevrolet, Earnhardt will move to a backup car for the remainder of the weekend. He will start last in the 37-car field.