Kyle Busch grabs Phoenix pole as Jimmie Johnson crashes
Joe Gibbs Racing swept the top three starting positions for Sunday’s Good Sam 500 at Phoenix International Raceway (on FOX at 3:30 p.m. ET), with Kyle Busch taking the pole on Friday over his teammates Carl Edwards and Denny Hamlin.
Kurt Busch will start on the outside of Row 2 in a Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet, the first driver to crash the JGR party.
The pole for Kyle Busch was the 18th of his career and the first of the 2016 season, after an inspection failure cost him the top starting spot at Atlanta. Busch, the reigning Sprint Cup Series champion, comes into the race leading the series in points again this year.
This used to be one of the team’s worst tracks and now it’s one of the best.
“We were getting our butts smoked here a few years ago,” Kyle Busch said. “We were really bad when this place was repaved (in 2011). We obviously struggled really bad. We’ve known to do a really big push on this place because it’s (also hosting) the second-to-last race in the Chase.”
The results have translated into great speed here.
“Where are we beating them?” Kyle Busch said of the competition. “I think it’s a combination of everything. I think when you can gain (corner) entry speed, you can gain center speed, you can gain exit speed, straightaway speed. It just kind of all comes together.”
“There is a reason the Gibbs cars are one through three right now,” said Brad Keselowski, last week’s winner in Las Vegas. “They have a lot of speed and are doing things at a very high level. They had a shot at winning the first three races and have been very close to doing that. I don’t know if anyone else can say the same.”
Busch covered the one-mile distance in 26.014 seconds (138.387 mph) in Friday's final round of knockout qualifying, which was a dramatic affair.
In the third and final round of time trials, Jimmie Johnson suffered a failure on the front end of his Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet and hit the outside wall hard in Turn 2. He will have to race his backup car from the start of the grid on Sunday, as will Hendrick Motorsports teammate Kasey Kahne.
In the opening round of qualifying, Kahne’s Chevrolet caught fire under the hood, before rolling to a stop and bringing out the red flag. The incident was blamed on a failure of the electronic fuel injection unit under the hood of Kahne’s car. Because he had to go to a backup engine, Kahne will start from the rear of the field.
Johnson said he wasn't sure what made his car drive straight into the Turn 2 wall.
"I don't know for sure," he said. "That's why we have to go back to the truck and talk about things. But certainly, a lot of 'straight' in an area of the track that I didn't need to have straight. So, we'll have to get to the bottom of it and see what went on. But, just a really hard impact to the outside wall.
"I'm thankful that we have SAFER barriers and soft walls. I'm very disappointed, because we had a very fast race car, and the guys have been working so hard to get this thing tuned-up. Thankfully, we have tomorrow to work on the back-up car and try to get it up to speed and get it going, but this is certainly not what we wanted right now."
Failing to make it out of the first round of qualifying were Dale Earnhardt Jr., who qualified 26th, and Danica Patrick in 36th.
Today reminded me of last fall @RIRInsider qualifying p29. Similar issues & result. We ran 5th that weekend. Important practices tomorrow.— Dale Earnhardt Jr. (@DaleJr) March 12, 2016
Kevin Harvick, who has won three of the past four Sprint Cup races at PIR and seven overall, didn’t make it out of the second round, qualifying 18th, one spot ahead of Keselowski.
"We've just been off in qualifying every week so far," Harvick said. "Just not hitting the balance from practice to qualifying."
There will be two rounds of practice on Saturday. The first starts at 10:30 a.m. ET, with Happy Hour at 1 p.m. ET.
The Sports Xchange contributed to this report.