AVONDALE, Ariz. – Defending Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion Martin Truex Jr. finally found the extra speed he needed at ISM Raceway.
Saving his best lap for the final round of knockout qualifying on Friday at the one-mile track in the Sonoran Desert, Truex sped around the circuit in 26.288 seconds (136.945 mph) to win the pole position for Sunday’s TicketGuardian 500 (3:30 ET on FOX, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).
Truex beat Kyle Larson (136.643 mph) by .058 seconds to earn his first pole of the season, his second at ISM Raceway and the 16th of his career. But Truex hadn’t claimed the top starting spot at ISM since he led the field to the green flag in the fall of 2009. Truex said a strong game plan and a variety of factors contributed to the pole-winning run for the No. 78 Furniture Row Racing Toyota.
“I think it was a little bit of everything,” Truex said. “I wouldn’t say I held back that much the first two runs. But we really worked on our car in practice to try to be best in that third run and to understand what we needed to do for balance-wise throughout those three runs. Honestly, sometimes you just hit it right, and today all the stars lined up, and here we are.
“So many little things come in to play when you’re talking about how to pick up half of a tenth at the racetrack. Just a lot of little things and details that were done properly, and that’s what’s so fun about our team. We work together so well. They can tell me I’m not driving right, and I can tell them they’re not setting up the car right, and we can meet in the middle.”
Chase Elliott (136.126 mph) qualified third, followed by Alex Bowman (136.080 mph) and Joey Logano (135.947 mph).
Time trials took place two hours earlier than their traditional later afternoon time slot, and Larson thought he had a strong shot at his first Phoenix pole.
“Our Credit One Bank Chevy has been really good here the last few years and actually, I’m a little disappointed in second, because I always qualify good here,” Larson said. “I think I’ve been like in the top eight every single time I’ve qualified at Phoenix (except for a 12th-place start in 2015) and still don’t have a pole yet.
“I thought today was going to be the day. I thought my first lap was okay, but Martin, obviously, their team hit it there for that final round. Sunday’s race will be fun. Like I said, we’ve been fast here the last few years, so it would be nice to close out the weekend with a win.”
Denny Hamlin, Kyle Busch, Jamie McMurray, Erik Jones and Kevin Harvick completed spots six through 10 on the grid. Harvick is a record eight-time winner at ISM and is on a two-race winning streak this season entering Sunday’s event.
After laying down the fastest lap in Round 1, Jimmie Johnson failed to make it into the final 12-car round as he’ll start 17th in the No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet on Sunday.
Brad Keselowski was the biggest shocker of the day after failing to advance to the second knockout round. He’ll start 25th in the No. 2 Team Penske Ford.
The red flag was briefly displayed after Jeffrey Earnhardt hit the wall during the first round of group qualifying, locking up the brakes on his No. 00 Chevrolet going into Turn 3. He will start last in the 37-car field.