Drama builds as Ryan Blaney leads Playoff drivers with pole at Phoenix

Ryan Blaney
AVONDALE, AZ - NOVEMBER 10: Ryan Blaney, driver of the #21 SKF/Quick Lane Tire & Auto Center Ford, poses with the Coors Light Pole Award after qualifying for the Monster Engergy NASCAR Cup Series Can-Am 500 at Phoenix International Raceway on November 10, 2017 in Avondale, Arizona. (Photo by Matt Sullivan/Getty Images)

Ryan Blaney may just win his way in after all. Blaney scored the second pole of his career Friday evening with a lap of 26.098, 137.942 mph at the 1-mile Phoenix Raceway and will lead the field to the green for Sunday’s Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Can-Am 500.

Blaney’s lap was the fastest of the three-round session and came with 1:15 left in the final five minutes.

“We got better each round, which is all you can ask for really<” Blaney said.  “I thought the last round was our best.  We ran our fastest time and it was enough.  That says something strong about this team.  I think we started second here in the spring and to back that up and better it at a big weekend like this, where we have to perform well, that’s definitely encouraging and it gets our weekend started off on a good foot.  Hopefully, we can keep this momentum up and keep it going and see what we have for them on Sunday.”

The Wood Brothers Racing driver is one of four Playoff drivers below the cutline to make the Final 4 at Homestead-Miami Speedway in just one week. At 22 points outside the top 4, he will most likely need to win in order to advance.  Denny Hamlin one of the other 4 drivers is 19 points out and starts on the front row in second.

“We know that we have to beat him (Ryan Blaney) heads up essentially through the stages and the finish,” Hamlin said. “But you know, I think that you kind of consider everyone, but you’ve got to look at the person who’s in front of you first. I definitely won’t be looking behind until that moment comes where that person is overtaking me, whether it be maybe in the first stage or something, if Ryan gains more points, then now he’s in front of me so I’ll be looking to him, but right now it’s about looking forward.”

Kyle Larson will start third, while Playoff driver Chase Elliott, 49 points below the cutoff, and the driver who led Friday’s practice session, will start fourth and will be in search of his first win, the only way he can advance.

“If we get our car driving good tomorrow, it’s plenty good enough,” Elliott said. “So, we’ll see. It would have been nice to have that first pit box, but I think taking fourth, there are four good ones on pit road. We’ll take advantage of that and try to go get ‘em on Sunday.”

Playoff leader Martin Truex Jr., already locked into the final 4 will roll off fifth.

Jimmie Johnson, the other driver outside the cutoff, 51 points, will start 12th.

Those four drivers will be chasing Brad Keselowski, who is currently in on points, struggled during the session; he will start 16th Sunday.

Kevin Harvick, already locked into the final 4 will start sixth, Matt Kenseth seventh, Final 4 driver Kyle Busch eighth with Joey Logano and Daniel Suarez rounding out the top 10.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. in his final race as a full time Cup driver at Phoenix will start 14th.

All the attention however will be on the five drivers vying to be one of the final 4 drivers who will race for the 2017 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup on Sunday.

“Our mindset coming into this weekend was really trying to win the race and sitting on the pole my mindset doesn’t change,” Blaney said.  “I still want to go try to win the race, so that’s the mindset we’ve had all week and hopefully we can keep that and I think that’s our goal.”

With 40 cars entered no team was sent home. The green flag for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Can-Am 500 will fall just after 2:30 p.m. ET Sunday with live coverage on the NBC Sports Network.

Greg Engle
About Greg Engle 7421 Articles
Greg is a published award winning sportswriter who spent 23 years combined active and active reserve military service, much of that in and around the Special Operations community. Greg is the author of "The Nuts and Bolts of NASCAR: The Definitive Viewers' Guide to Big-Time Stock Car Auto Racing" and has been published in major publications across the country including the Los Angeles Times, the Cleveland Plain Dealer and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. He was also a contributor to Chicken Soup for the NASCAR Soul, published in 2010, and the Christmas edition in 2016. He wrote as the NASCAR, Formula 1, Auto Reviews and National Veterans Affairs Examiner for Examiner.com and has appeared on Fox News. He holds a BS degree in communications, a Masters degree in psychology and is currently a PhD candidate majoring in psychology. He is currently the weekend Motorsports Editor for Autoweek.