Ryan Blaney Wins Pole at Phoenix

Ryan Blaney wins his second-career pole
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Ryan Blaney got what he needed in Friday's Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series knockout qualifying session-but only by a thousandth of a second.

In the final round, Blaney covered the one-mile distance at Phoenix Raceway in 26.098 seconds (137.942 mph) to edge Denny Hamlin (137.936 mph) by 0.001 for the top starting spot in Sunday's Can-Am 500, the final race in the Playoff's Round of 8 (on NBC at 2:30 p.m. ET).

With the Playoff field set to be trimmed from eight drivers to four after the race at Phoenix, both Blaney and Hamlin are below the cut line. A victory for either driver would guarantee the final spot in the Nov. 19 Championship 4 race at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

The same is true for Chase Elliott, whose only realistic shot at the final four is to win on Sunday. Elliott qualified fourth at 137.641 mph, one position behind Kyle Larson (137.926 mph), who fell 0.003 seconds short of matching the pole-winning speed.

"We got better each round, which is all you can ask for, really," said Blaney, who won his second Coors Light Pole Award of the season, the second of his career and his first at Phoenix. "I thought the last round was our best. We ran our fastest time, and it was enough. That says something strong about this team.

"I think we started second here in the spring, and to back that up and better it at a big weekend like this, where we have to perform well, that's definitely encouraging, and it gets our weekend started off on a good foot. Hopefully, we can keep this momentum up and keep it going and see what we have for them on Sunday."

Brad Keselowski, fourth in the standings and 19 points ahead of Hamlin in fifth, was the only Playoff driver who failed to advance to the third round of time trials. Keselowski qualified 16th in his No. 2 Team Penske Ford, putting him in a disadvantaged position for accumulating points in the race's first two stages.

"It's a short race, and if there's a track to qualify well, this is one of them," Keselowski said. "It's not where we want to start, but when the track gets hot and slick, we seem to run better here than when it cools off at night.

"I don't know, maybe that's my style. I'm not sure, but we'll go race and see what we've got."

[adinserter name="GOOGLE AD"] Keselowski's lackluster qualifying effort, won't change Hamlin's approach to the race.

"It doesn't alter it much," said Hamlin, who cut the backstretch dogleg in the final round in an attempt to shorten the distance. "I didn't think they were going to qualify that great, but they typically race pretty well here.

"I'm not going to count on anything – not until we get to the end of the first stage and I see where we're at. I'm confident that starting right there, we should probably be up front all day."

Blaney in the #21 Ford
Blaney in the #21 Ford

Elliott trails Keselowski by 49 points entering the final event in the Round of 8. Unlike Blaney and Hamlin, who could make the Championship 4 on points if Keselowski fades, Elliott is in a win-or-bust situation.

Getting the fourth pick of pit stalls should help.

"If we get our car driving good (in Saturday's practice), it's plenty good enough," Elliott said of his qualifying run. "So we'll see. It would have been nice to have that first pit box, but I think taking fourth, there are four good ones on pit road. We'll take advantage of that and try to go get ‘em on Sunday."

Twelfth-place qualifier Jimmie Johnson is in the same position as Elliott, his Hendrick Motorsports teammate. If the seven-time champion hopes to preserve a shot at an eighth title this year, he'll have to win on Sunday.

"We made it to the third round, and I just got really aggressive in that round trying to run a flat (26 seconds)," Johnson said. "Just got in the corner too hard on both ends and I kind of pushed up.

"So, could have been better, but I don't know if we could have had the pole. I think we would have only been about fifth or sixth if I had got it right."

Blaney still looks at Sunday’s race as a must-win situation.

“Our mindset coming into this weekend was really trying to win the race and sitting on the pole my mindset doesn’t change," Blaney said. “I still want to go try to win the race, so that’s the mindset we’ve had all week and hopefully we can keep that and I think that’s our goal."

Asked what it will take to lead the race, Blaney responded, “Honestly, I don’t really know. I’ve never really had the best races here. We’ve had moments of greatness here and then most of the moments we haven’t been fantastic here."

The challenge, he said, is switching from qualifying trim in cool temperatures to race trim in higher temperatures.

“It’s completely different," he explained. “One is q-trim and two it was really cool outside when we qualified here tonight and it will be really hot on Sunday. Just trying to make your car be able to last long. We usually see long green flag runs here and try to keep everything cool – brakes and tires and things like that.

“I thought we were okay today in race trim (during practice), he continued. “I didn’t think we were great, but we’ll have all of tomorrow to try to get that a little bit better. But just trying to keep the car under you on long runs, that’s what we always see here and I felt like that’s kind of been a struggle for us and hopefully we can change that come Sunday."

A key benefit of winning the pole is having the first pit box selection.

“I think it’s really important no matter where you go," Blaney said. “Here, it’s kind of nice to have this number one pit stall because you’ve got the curved ending to the pit road. That’s kind of nice to have so you don’t have to watch cars coming out of their stall if you’re pitted way back here, and maybe here you can kind of see which cars do two tires and no tires if they’re really far down pit road. Our spotter can relay that to my crew chief before we even get to our stall and they can make an audible call or whatever. It’s important anywhere. I don’t really think this place is more important than anywhere else to have the first pit stall."

In addition to being Blaney’s second career pole, today’s effort gives Wood Brothers Racing its 118th pole. Should he win Sunday’s race, it will be the Wood Brothers’ 100th in addition to putting Blaney in the Championship Four at Homestead.

QUALIFYING RESULTS

Pos. # Driver Make Sponsor Lap Behind Speed
1 21 Ryan Blaney Ford SKF / Quick Lane Tire & Auto Center 26.098 LEADER 137.942
2 11 Denny Hamlin Toyota FedEx Ground 26.099 -0.001 137.936
3 42 Kyle Larson Chevy Refresh Your Car! 26.101 -0.003 137.926
4 24 Chase Elliott Chevy Hooters 26.155 -0.057 137.641
5 78 Martin Truex Jr. Toyota Auto-Owners Insurance 26.166 -0.068 137.583
6 4 Kevin Harvick Ford Busch Light 26.230 -0.132 137.247
7 20 Matt Kenseth Toyota Circle K 26.241 -0.143 137.190
8 18 Kyle Busch Toyota M&M's Caramel 26.263 -0.165 137.075
9 22 Joey Logano Ford Shell Pennzoil 26.333 -0.235 136.711
10 19 Daniel Suarez Toyota Stanley 26.380 -0.282 136.467
11 77 Erik Jones Toyota 5-hour ENERGY Extra Strength 26.398 -0.300 136.374
12 48 Jimmie Johnson Chevy Lowe's 26.427 -0.329 136.224
13 1 Jamie McMurray Chevy CESSNA 26.308 -0.210 136.841
14 88 Dale Earnhardt Jr. Chevy Nationwide 26.408 -0.310 136.322
15 41 Kurt Busch Ford Monster Energy / Haas Automation 26.411 -0.313 136.307
16 2 Brad Keselowski Ford Miller Lite 26.412 -0.314 136.302
17 5 Kasey Kahne Chevy Farmers Insurance 26.416 -0.318 136.281
18 31 Ryan Newman Chevy Caterpillar 26.462 -0.364 136.044
19 27 Paul Menard Chevy Duracell / Menards 26.497 -0.399 135.864
20 14 Clint Bowyer Ford USA Network Damnation 26.535 -0.437 135.670
21 3 Austin Dillon Chevy Realtree 26.551 -0.453 135.588
22 43 Aric Almirola Ford United States Air Force 26.606 -0.508 135.308
23 47 AJ Allmendinger Chevy Fry's ClickList 26.622 -0.524 135.227
24 10 Danica Patrick Ford CODE 3 ASSOCIATES 26.694 -0.596 134.862
25 6 Trevor Bayne Ford Ford EcoBoost 26.542 -0.444 135.634
26 38 David Ragan Ford 1000Bulbs.Com 26.597 -0.499 135.354
27 17 Ricky Stenhouse Jr. Ford Robert Yates Tribute 26.604 -0.506 135.318
28 95 Michael McDowell Chevy Rohto Jolt Eyedrops 26.609 -0.511 135.293
29 13 Ty Dillon Chevy GEICO Military 26.664 -0.566 135.014
30 32 Matt DiBenedetto Ford Can-am / Kappa 26.697 -0.599 134.847
31 37 Chris Buescher Chevy Clorox 26.727 -0.629 134.695
32 34 Landon Cassill Ford Love's Travel Stops 26.762 -0.664 134.519
33 23 Corey Lajoie Toyota Fresh Beards / Earthwater 26.956 -0.858 133.551
34 72 Cole Whitt Chevy TriStar Motorsports 26.957 -0.859 133.546
35 7 Joey Gase Chevy Eternal Fan 26.970 -0.872 133.482
36 66 David Starr Chevy Eureka 27.158 -1.060 132.558
37 15 D.J. Kennington Toyota Northern Provincial Pipelines 27.221 -1.123 132.251
38 33 Jeffrey Earnhardt Chevy Hulu 27.352 -1.254 131.617
39 51 Kyle Weatherman Chevy Rick Ware Racing 28.337 -2.239 127.042
40 00 Derrike Cope Chevy StarCom Fiber, LLC 0.000 26.098 0.000

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