AVONDALE, Ariz. — All eyes at the start of Sunday’s AdvoCare 500 at Phoenix International Raceway will be on Jimmie Johnson and Brad Keselowski.
You won’t find them on the front row, however.
That’s reserved for Toyota drivers Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr., who will start the race first and second, respectively.
Busch won the pole Friday with a track-record lap at 138.766 mph, knocking Truex off the top spot as the final car to make an attempt. Carl Edwards held the previous record (137.239 mph set Feb. 27, 2011).
The pole is Busch’s second of the season and 10th of his career.
“That was a really fast lap. I’m looking forward to the race this weekend,” said Busch, who has scored the fifth-most points so far in the Chase even though he did not qualify to compete for the title.
“It’s important for anyone to get a win, whether you’re in the Chase or a guy battling third or fourth in points. We’ve shown speed this year and we’ve shown we can run up front.
“What we haven’t done is we just haven’t shown consistency in our finishes.”
While Busch is looking to add wins to finish the season, the Sprint Cup Series championship battle will begin far deeper in the field.
Johnson leads Keselowski by seven points entering this weekend’s race but Keselowski will start 14th on Sunday while Johnson will line up 24th – his worst start in 11 races.
Track position – while important everywhere – is critical at Phoenix, a one-mile slightly-banked oval.
“It’s very challenging to get through traffic but no more so than Martinsville and those places,” Keselowski said. “I think we saw Denny Hamlin go to the back twice and drive to the front and that was supposed to be a place you couldn’t pass.
“If you’re good, you find a way.”
Asked if he would race the track or race Johnson, Keselowski laughed.
“I’m running to win, whatever that means,” he said. “Win the race and things become a lot easier. You don’t have to worry about those things.”
Johnson sure hopes so.
“That wasn’t so good, but we’ve been fighting a little bit in qualifying trim. But, we’ve got a great baseline race set-up to go off of,” Johnson said. “For me it was really Turn 1. The glare was pretty bad getting into the turn then getting the power down was tough for me up off of (Turn) 2.
“Turns 3 and 4 were pretty good I felt like on both of my laps, but I struggled oddly enough down there this time.”
Former IndyCar Series fan favorite Danica Patrick, making her final Cup start of her 10-race schedule this season, was 37th-fastest.
“It was pretty edgy especially coming to the green,” Patrick said of her qualifying lap. “It stuck way out and I couldn’t turn the wheel so I ended up pretty wide and I wasn’t sure if I was going to have enough grip to stay out of the wall or not coming to the green.”
|2.||56||Martin Truex, Jr.||Toyota||138.217|
|23.||88||Dale Earnhardt, Jr.||Chevy||135.547|
|26.||22||Sam Hornish, Jr.||Dodge||135.171|
Did not qualify: J.J. Yeley