The score is even. Team Penske 2, Hendrick Motorsports 1, Joe Gibbs Racing 1. That score? Busch Light Pole Awards. On Saturday, Penske’s Ryan Blaney took his seventh career NASCAR Cup Series pole in going 132.709 mph in his No. 12 Ford. He and Austin Cindric (Fontana) have the two Penske poles this season while Alex Bowman (Daytona) and Christopher Bell (Las Vegas) have won the other two.
In terms of qualifying at the Phoenix Raceway, 3 of Blaney’s 7 career top starting spots have come in the Arizona desert. In fact, his last pole came here in 2019. Now, he has his next in giving Penske their 10th Phoenix pole trailing only Hendrick Motorsports’ 13 for most ever.
He’ll be joined on the front row by Denny Hamlin (132.353 mph). It was Hamlin’s fifth career top two starting spot in Phoenix and his third straight top eight qualifying effort on the season.
William Byron (132.275 mph) will roll off third in his No. 24 Chevrolet for three different teams in the top three starting positions via all three manufacturers with Bell (132.270 mph) starting alongside in fourth.
This is Byron’s first top five starting spot of the year while Bell now has two straight.
Aric Almirola (131.984 mph) rounds out the top five in his No. 10 Ford. Almirola’s best starting spot of the season prior to today was 20th. Despite that, he’s the only driver with a top 10 in all three races run though including all being in the top six at that. He was sixth here last November to go along with having six top 10’s in his last nine Phoenix tries. On top of that, Phoenix is most comparable to New Hampshire and Richmond on the schedule and the last time out in New Hampshire, he won. At Richmond, Almirola was sixth last spring and has 2 top eight’s in his last three there at that.
Chevy’s Fast In Practice, Ford’s Quick In Qualifying, Are Toyota’s Up To The Challenge?
Chevrolet was tops in all the long run metrics in practice to go along with having 3 cars in the top five of the combined speed chart in that lone session of the weekend. In qualifying, it went to the Ford’s with having 3 in the top six and half of the entire top 10.
Still, Penske went 1-2 in practice and now holds the pole.
Can the Toyota’s close that gap. They only had two cars in the final round and just one car in the top 12 in practice. The JGR guys went 14-15-20-23 in practice but qualified 2-4-11-20.
That has Sunday’s race wide open in my opinion.
Group B In Practice Not Well Represented In Final Round
The second group in practice saw Ryan Blaney, Tyler Reddick, Kyle Larson, Ross Chastain, Kyle Busch and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. take the top six speeds. However, only two of the six made it to the final round in qualifying with Blaney taking the top qualifying spot and Kyle Larson in 7th.
Group A though saw 4 of the 6 in the final round.
Still, 5 of the top 7 practice speeds were represented in the final round including second quickest being pole. Last week, the top two speeds in practice qualified 1-2 as well.
Austin Cindric An Underrated Qualifier
Austin Cindric won the season opening Daytona 500. He then won the pole a week later in Fontana. Last week, he qualified third. This week, he starts eighth as he’s the only driver to qualify in the top 10 in all four races thus far.
Cindric, won the Xfinity race here in Nov. 2020 and backed that up with a win in this very race weekend last season. He was runner-up in Nov. 2021 for three straight top two finishes on this track. Now, he’s off to a great start in Cup.
Harvick Struggling In Qualifying This Year
Kevin Harvick is searching for his 10th career Phoenix victory. He’s trying to attempt to become just the sixth driver to win 10 or more races at a single track with a win this weekend. However, while he’s had 11 top two results in his last 20 Phoenix starts, he’s 0-for-6 on this configuration.
He’ll have to come from a long way on Sunday in qualifying his No. 4 Ford in 16th. That’s oddly enough his best qualifying effort of the season in being 22nd, 32nd and 25th respectively the last three weeks.
He’s not the only one struggling in qualifying. Martin Truex Jr. starts 20th as he’s now started 14th, 12th, 12th and 20th this season.
Starting position matters in Phoenix. 8 of the last 9 Phoenix winners have come from a top 10 starting spot. In fact, 12 of the last 15 have started in the first 5 Rows including 6 of the last 7 from the top 6 at that.
That means the ones in the final round have the best chance with having all three Penske’s, three with Hendrick Motorsports, two with Joe Gibbs Racing and two at Stewart-Haas Racing.
With Hendrick Motorsports having won the last two races on the season and 7 of the last 8 dating back to last year and Penske the one that they didn’t, I further like this trend to continue through the checkered flag on Sunday.