By Reid Spencer, NASCAR Wire Service
AVONDALE, Ariz. – Saving his best effort for the final round of Friday’s knockout qualifying session at Phoenix International Raceway, substitute driver Alex Bowman won the pole for Sunday’s Can-Am 500 (2:30 p.m. ET on NBC), the race that will determine the Championship 4 drivers in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.
Filling in behind the wheel of the No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet for Dale Earnhardt Jr., Bowman covered the one-mile distance in 25.619 seconds (140.521 mph) to win the first Coors Light Pole Award of his career decisively over Kyle Larson (140.263 mph).
“Man, it’s amazing,” said the 23-year-old from nearby Tucson. “We weren’t really that strong in qualifying trim in practice (earlier on Friday). I don’t really know where that came from, but I just can’t thank everybody at Hendrick Motorsports enough.
“To do this in Phoenix, so close to home, means so much to me. We have had such fast race cars. We haven’t had an ounce of luck, but to get a pole here means a lot.”
Chase Elliot qualified third at 140.236 mph. The best of the Chase drivers were Joey Logano in fourth (140.138 mph), Denny Hamlin in fifth (140.072 mph) and Kevin Harvick in sixth (139.980 mph). The remaining Chase drivers qualified as follows: Matt Kenseth, 10th; Carl Edwards, 11th; Kurt Busch, 12th; Jimmie Johnson, 17th and Kyle Busch, 19th.
Johnson and Edwards already have clinched spots in the Championship 4 Round of the Chase, thanks to respective victories at Martinsville and Texas.
Fourth on the grid wasn’t what Logano wanted in his quest to make the Championship 4 at Homestead, but his position on the outside of the second row could be an advantage at the start of the race.
“No, it’s not first, right?” said Logano, who is tied for third in the Chase standings with Kyle Busch. “We had a fast Shell Pennzoil Ford again in qualifying and didn’t get the pole. That part is frustrating. The good part is we are fourth and not that far back, and the outside lane is usually a good place to be here at Phoenix on the restarts.
“Usually the leader takes the outside, and that works out pretty well. Overall, we should get a decent pit stall and be able to race toward the front. I’m frustrated because I am not first, which I guess is a good thing – but it kind of stinks.”
The Chase drivers aside, the story in qualifying was Bowman, who ran a third lap after posting his fast time in the second, not knowing he had run fast enough to secure the pole.
Earnhardt, who watched from pit road, was elated at the success of his relief driver.
“This is his hometown, kind of, so it’s awesome that all his friends are around to see him do this,” Earnhardt said. “This is great for his career. This is exactly what we were hoping to happen for him. Hopefully, he can put it together on Sunday.”
Note: After smacking the Turn 3 wall during practice, Martin Truex Jr. will start 40th because the No. 78 team couldn’t get his backup car through inspection in time to post a qualifying lap. Truex currently is ninth in the standings, highest among drivers eliminated from the Chase in earlier rounds.
NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Qualifying – Can-Am 500
1. (88) Alex Bowman(i), Chevrolet, 140.521 mph.
2. (42) Kyle Larson, Chevrolet, 140.263 mph.
3. (24) Chase Elliott #, Chevrolet, 140.236 mph.
4. (22) Joey Logano (C), Ford, 140.138 mph.
5. (11) Denny Hamlin (C), Toyota, 140.072 mph.
6. (4) Kevin Harvick (C), Chevrolet, 139.980 mph.
7. (3) Austin Dillon, Chevrolet, 139.708 mph.
8. (21) Ryan Blaney #, Ford, 139.638 mph.
9. (1) Jamie McMurray, Chevrolet, 139.486 mph.
10. (20) Matt Kenseth (C), Toyota, 139.427 mph.
11. (19) Carl Edwards (C), Toyota, 139.303 mph.
12. (41) Kurt Busch (C), Chevrolet, 139.179 mph.
13. (5) Kasey Kahne, Chevrolet, 139.249 mph.
14. (2) Brad Keselowski, Ford, 139.238 mph.
15. (31) Ryan Newman, Chevrolet, 139.222 mph.
16. (10) Danica Patrick, Chevrolet, 139.217 mph.
17. (48) Jimmie Johnson (C), Chevrolet, 139.190 mph.
18. (47) AJ Allmendinger, Chevrolet, 138.969 mph.
19. (18) Kyle Busch (C), Toyota, 138.878 mph.
20. (27) Paul Menard, Chevrolet, 138.723 mph.
21. (17) Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Ford, 138.696 mph.
22. (13) Casey Mears, Chevrolet, 138.122 mph.
23. (6) Trevor Bayne, Ford, 137.836 mph.
24. (16) Greg Biffle, Ford, 137.431 mph.
25. (14) Tony Stewart, Chevrolet, 137.825 mph.
26. (95) Michael McDowell, Chevrolet, 137.641 mph.
27. (43) Aric Almirola, Ford, 137.636 mph.
28. (38) Landon Cassill, Ford, 137.169 mph.
29. (7) Regan Smith, Chevrolet, 136.965 mph.
30. (34) Chris Buescher #, Ford, 136.898 mph.
31. (23) David Ragan, Toyota, 136.457 mph.
32. (83) Matt DiBenedetto, Toyota, 136.322 mph.
33. (44) Brian Scott #, Ford, 136.157 mph.
34. (15) Clint Bowyer, Chevrolet, 136.132 mph.
35. (32) Jeffrey Earnhardt #, Ford, 135.298 mph.
36. (46) Michael Annett, Chevrolet, 135.191 mph.
37. (30) Gray Gaulding, Chevrolet, 134.837 mph.
38. (98) Reed Sorenson, Chevrolet, 132.949 mph.
39. (55) DJ Kennington(i), Chevrolet, 132.616 mph.
40. (78) Martin Truex Jr., Toyota, 0.000 mph.