He’s been relatively quiet so far this young season, but Friday the reigning Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion made a little noise.
Martin Truex Jr. put down the fastest lap of the three-round qualifying session with just over a minute and a half to go to win the pole for Sunday’s Ticket Guardian 500k at ISM Raceway in Phoenix. His lap of 26.288 seconds, 136.945 mph around the 1-mile oval scored the Furniture Row Racing driver the 16th pole of his career, his first of 2018, and his second of 2018.
“We worked really hard coming here, knowing what we’ve done here in the past,” Truex said. “We’ve run well, but we never could quite get it just right to go for the pole. I think we were fifth here last fall. We had a good game plan coming here and I had to adjust my driving a little bit and then adjusted the way they set the car up and it all played into our hands.”
Kyle Larson, who led the lone practice session and the second round of qualifying, will start second.
“It was definitely different when we qualify later in the day,” Larson said. “It seems like from practice to qualifying in the past you go a little bit faster. But today, it was hotter outside, and it was a little slicker there in that first round.”
The qualifying session was good news for Hendrick Motorsports who has struggled in the last two sessions put three of its four drivers inside the top 10: Chase Elliott will start third Sunday, teammate Alex Bowman in fourth. William Byron advanced through all three rounds and will start 11th. Jimmie Johnson meanwhile led the first round, but with only 20 minutes of practice time after penalties from NASCAR after failing pre-race inspection at Las Vegas the week prior, he wasn’t able to move out of the second round and will start 17th.
“I never had a chance to go out on scuffed tires to see what adjustments we had to make,” Johnson said. “I had two runs on stickers in practice and we clearly dialed that part of the car in and it would have been nice just to have a scuff run to go out and understand what exactly to do. I’m very optimistic with the speed in the car in that first round and look forward to a full practice session or two tomorrow.”
After being bumped out in the final five minutes Joey Logano took a final lap as time expired and put down a lap good enough to grab fifth.
Denny Hamlin, will start sixth, his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Kyle Busch seventh, with Jamie McMurray eighth, third JGR driver Erik Jones ninth with winner of the last two races Kevin Harvick rounding out the top 10. Ryan Blaney will start 12th behind Byron.
Notables not advancing: Brad Keselowski will start 25th, Darrell Wallace Jr. 27th and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. in a backup car after a crash in practice was 29th but will start at the rear of the field in a backup car.
A little frustrating, but it’s not where you start, it’s where you finish,” Wallace said. “I’m trying to beat that into my head, but we get so far behind when we start back here.”
The only incident of the day came early in the first round when Jeffrey Earnhardt hit the turn 3 wall. He will start 37th Sunday.
With 37 cars for 40 spots no team was sent home.
The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Ticket Guardian 500k at ISM Raceway will get the green flag just after 3:30 p.m. ET Sunday with live coverage on Fox.