Alex Bowman leads youthful contingent in pole qualifying at Phoenix

Alex Bowman, driver of the #88 Nationwide Chevrolet, and crew chief Greg Ives pose with the Coors Light Pole Award after qualifying for the pole position for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Can-Am 500 at Phoenix International Raceway on November 11, 2016 in Avondale, Arizona. (Getty Images)
Alex Bowman, driver of the #88 Nationwide Chevrolet, and crew chief Greg Ives pose with the Coors Light Pole Award after qualifying for the pole position for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Can-Am 500 at Phoenix International Raceway on November 11, 2016 in Avondale, Arizona.  (Getty Images)
Alex Bowman, driver of the #88 Nationwide Chevrolet, and crew chief Greg Ives pose with the Coors Light Pole Award after qualifying for the pole position for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Can-Am 500 at Phoenix International Raceway on November 11, 2016 in Avondale, Arizona. (Getty Images)

Alex Bowman is making the best of his time in the limelight. The substitute driver for Dale Earnhardt Jr., put down a lap of 140.521 mph Friday to score his first career pole in his 80th Sprint Cup start and will lead the field to the green in Sunday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Can-Am 500 at Phoenix International Speedway.

“Man, it’s amazing,” Bowman said.  “We weren’t really that strong in qualifying trim in practice.  I don’t really know where that came from …  To do this in Phoenix, so close to home, means so much to me.  We have had such fast racecars we haven’t had an ounce of luck, but to get a pole here means a lot.”

The 23-year-old native of Tucson ran the fastest lap of the three rounds of qualifying and led a youthful  trio, edging out Kyle Larson, who was fastest in the lone practice earlier Friday and Chase Elliott. The first Chase driver in qualifying was Joey Logano who will start fourth with fellow Chase driver Denny Hamlin grabbing fifth.

“It is not first, right?” Logano said laughing.”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 for that and be able to race toward the front for that. I am frustrated because I am not first which I guess is a good thing but it kind of stinks.”

Bowman has been substituting for Earnhardt, who is out for the rest of the season with concussion like symptoms.  His best start in the No. 88 Hendrick Chevrolet prior to Friday night was a second at Charlotte, his best finish, sixth at Michigan. Earnhardt was with the crew Friday night when Bowman won the pole.

“This is his hometown, kind of,” Earnhardt said. “So it’s awesome that all his friends are around to see him do this.  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.”

Kevin Harvick, the favorite here having won six of the last eight Phoenix races and needing a win to make it to the Final 4, will roll of sixth, Austin Dillon seventh followed by Ryan Blaney, Jamie McMurray and Matt Kenseth round out the top 10. Carl Edwards, already locked into the Final 4 and Kurt Busch also needing a win to advance, will start 11th and 12th as the last two drivers to advance to the final five minutes. In all six of the eight Chase drivers made the final round.

The other two Chase drivers, Jimmie Johnson, and Kyle Busch made it to the second round, but didn’t have enough speed to make it into the final 12. Johnson will start 17th Sunday, Busch 19th.

“Just missed it on balance,” Johnson said.” It has been a challenging day in qualifying trim, some conditions we couldn’t really adjust and get tuned out of the car, but qualifying has never been my strong suit I’m always better about racing. Looking forward to 312 laps on Sunday afternoon here.”

Martin Truex Jr. who crashed his primary car in Friday’s practice, couldn’t get his backup car through inspection prior to the end of the first round of qualifying. He will start 40th in the Sunday’s 40 car field.  There were 40 entries, so no one was sent home. The full qualifying results can be found here, the full lineup here.

The NASCAR Sprint Cup Can-Am 500 will be run Sunday. Live coverage will be on NBC starting at 2:00 p.m. ET with the green flag coming just after 2:30 p.m. ET.

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