By Reid Spencer, NASCAR Wire Service
Running the fastest lap of the day when it counted most, Kyle Busch paced a Joe Gibbs Racing sweep of the top three starting spots for Sunday’s Good Sam 500 at Phoenix International Raceway (on FOX at 3:30 p.m. ET).
Busch covered the one-mile distance in 26.014 seconds (138.387 mph) in Friday’s final round of knockout qualifying, a session interrupted by Jimmie Johnson’s hard wreck against the Turn 2 wall.
The Coors Light Pole Award was Busch’s first of the season (after an inspection failure cost him the top starting spot at Atlanta), his third at Phoenix and the 18th of his career.
“It was a good day,” Busch said. “Unloading off the truck, everything seemed to go real well. I wasn’t sure about our speed in race trim, but then hopped over to qualifying trim and, for as not as good of a feel that the car had, we had some good speed, so that was definitely a plus—being able to have some good laps there and being able to run a really good lap there in the last session.”
Carl Edwards (137.515 mph) was second fastest in the final round, followed by JGR teammate Denny Hamlin (137.426 mph). Kurt Busch (137.394 mph), trying for his third straight pole, will start fourth in Sunday’s race.
Johnson earned the fifth position on the grid with his first lap in the final round, but the six-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion went to a backup car after his wreck and will drop to the rear of the field for the start of the race.
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.”
Johnson’s crash wasn’t the only calamity in what was a bizarre qualifying session for Hendrick Motorsports. Kasey Kahne’s engine caught fire after the driver of the No. 5 Chevrolet posted the third fastest lap in the opening round.
Forced to change engines after smoke spewed from the air cleaner for several minutes. Kahne will join Johnson at the rear of the field for the start of Sunday’s race.
The team surmised later that the engine went into EFI (electronic fuel injection) protection mode and blew up. Kahne was mystified by the problem but said the engine had continued to run after he attempted to shut it off.
Kevin Harvick, who has won three of the last four NASCAR Sprint Cup races at PIR, will have to charge from mid-pack after qualifying 18th on Friday.
“We’ve just been off in qualifying every week so far,” Harvick said. “Just not hitting the balance from practice to qualifying.”
NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Qualifying – Good Sam 500
1. (18) Kyle Busch, Toyota, 138.387 mph.
2. (19) Carl Edwards, Toyota, 137.515 mph.
3. (11) Denny Hamlin, Toyota, 137.426 mph.
4. (41) Kurt Busch, Chevrolet, 137.394 mph.
5. (48) Jimmie Johnson, Chevrolet, 137.174 mph.
6. (20) Matt Kenseth, Toyota, 137.174 mph.
7. (42) Kyle Larson, Chevrolet, 137.033 mph.
8. (78) Martin Truex Jr., Toyota, 136.934 mph.
9. (22) Joey Logano, Ford, 136.773 mph.
10. (17) Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Ford, 136.752 mph.
11. (1) Jamie McMurray, Chevrolet, 136.555 mph.
12. (21) Ryan Blaney #, Ford, 136.307 mph.
13. (16) Greg Biffle, Ford, 137.247 mph.
14. (43) Aric Almirola, Ford, 137.216 mph.
15. (3) Austin Dillon, Chevrolet, 137.091 mph.
16. (27) Paul Menard, Chevrolet, 137.028 mph.
17. (24) Chase Elliott #, Chevrolet, 136.971 mph.
18. (4) Kevin Harvick, Chevrolet, 136.893 mph.
19. (2) Brad Keselowski, Ford, 136.851 mph.
20. (31) Ryan Newman, Chevrolet, 136.576 mph.
21. (6) Trevor Bayne, Ford, 136.503 mph.
22. (47) AJ Allmendinger, Chevrolet, 136.488 mph.
23. (83) Matt DiBenedetto, Toyota, 136.395 mph.
24. (5) Kasey Kahne, Chevrolet, 137.190 mph.
25. (13) Casey Mears, Chevrolet, 135.537 mph.
26. (88) Dale Earnhardt Jr., Chevrolet, 135.527 mph.
27. (38) Landon Cassill, Ford, 135.394 mph.
28. (14) Ty Dillon(i), Chevrolet, 135.369 mph.
29. (23) David Ragan, Toyota, 135.206 mph.
30. (44) Brian Scott #, Ford, 134.917 mph.
31. (7) Regan Smith, Chevrolet, 134.514 mph.
32. (34) Chris Buescher #, Ford, 134.429 mph.
33. (95) Michael McDowell, Chevrolet, 134.068 mph.
34. (98) Cole Whitt, Chevrolet, 133.670 mph.
35. (15) Clint Bowyer, Chevrolet, 133.072 mph.
36. (10) Danica Patrick, Chevrolet, 132.895 mph.
37. (30) Josh Wise, Chevrolet, 132.797 mph.
38. (46) Michael Annett, Chevrolet, 132.768 mph.
39. (32) Joey Gase(i), Ford, 132.543 mph.
Image: Robert Laberge/NASCAR via Getty Images