LOUDON, N.H. (AP) Carl Edwards will start from the pole in his bid to give Joe Gibbs Racing its fourth straight victory.
Edwards continued JGR’s dominance with a lap of 137.980 mph to win the NASCAR Sprint Cup pole Friday at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
Kevin Harvick was second, the boost he needed after finishing 42nd last week in the Chase opener at Chicagoland. Kurt Busch, Harvick’s Stewart-Haas Racing’s teammate, was third.
Edwards has found a qualifying groove at New Hampshire, sweeping the top spot for both races this season.
”We got a great start to the Chase and we’re just keeping that rolling,” Edwards said.
JGR is the clear favorite to deliver Toyota its first Cup championship. Denny Hamlin rallied from a spin on Lap 2 that dropped him a lap down to win the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship opener last week at Chicagoland Speedway.
JGR has won three consecutive Cup races and nine of the last 12. After one race in the Chase, the top of the points standings are all JGR: Matt Kenseth is the leader, followed by Hamlin, Edwards and Kyle Busch.
”Certainly the last few months, the JGR Toyotas have been strong, so hopefully we can continue to improve and continue to keep getting better the next nine weeks and keep getting some results,” Kenseth said.
Chase for the Sprint Cup championship drivers took 10 of the top 11 spots for the race Sunday. Brad Keselowski was fourth and Jimmie Johnson fifth.
Hamlin was seventh, followed by Joey Logano, Ryan Newman, Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt Jr. Kenseth is 13th, Busch 17th, Paul Menard 20th, Martin Truex Jr. 21st and Jamie McMurray 23rd.
Last in the Chase standings, Clint Bowyer at 26th also had the worst qualifying spot for any of the 16 drivers in championship contention. Bowyer’s slim shot at winning the championship in Michael Waltrip Racing’s final season took a huge hit this week when NASCAR penalized the team for an infraction in the opening playoff race.
NASCAR said the No. 15 team had parts not properly installed on its Toyota during the opening inspection at Chicagoland.
Bowyer was docked 25 points, dropping him to last in the 16-driver Chase for the Sprint Cup championship field. Crew chief Billy Scott was fined $75,000 and suspended for the next three races, and placed on probation for six months.
Kyle Larson was the highest non-Chase qualifier at sixth.
There are two races remaining in the opening round of the Chase before four drivers will be cut from the 16-driver field.
When Gordon takes the green flag Sunday, he will set the mark as NASCAR’s new Iron Man. Gordon will make his 789th consecutive start, passing Ricky Rudd for the record. Rudd set the mark in 2002 when he snapped Terry Labonte’s streak of 655 consecutive races.
”This is not a stat that I have ever thought about, but now that I’ve reached it, I’m thinking about it a lot and I think it’s one of the most significant stats that I’ve had,” Gordon said.
Harvick and Johnson are separated by only three spots on the starting grid after they couldn’t be separated in the motorhome lot last weekend. The NASCAR champion drivers were involved in a skirmish after Harvick blamed Johnson for an accident that dropped the No. 4 Chevrolet to 42nd place.
Johnson said he hadn’t talked to Harvick and hoped there would be no retaliation on the track.
”I truthfully don’t know what to expect,” Johnson said. ”I certainly know what to hope for, but there is no telling what will take place.”