Larson wins the pole for Sunday’s United Rentals Work United 500 (3:30 p.m. ET, FOX, MRN), top 3 takeaways

Kyle Larson has been in a class all to himself so far this weekend at the Phoenix Raceway. The 2021 NASCAR Cup Series champion was quickest in Friday’s 50-minute practice session and backed that up with two blistering fast laps in both rounds of qualifying on Saturday.

As the quickest qualifier in the first round, Larson was the final qualifier in the final one. He was the only one to eclipse the 130 mph barrier going 130.237 mph in his No. 5 Chevrolet to score his 15th career Busch Pole Award.

3 of the last 5 Phoenix winners started from the pole and now Larson gets the No. 1 pit stall as a result of his qualifying performance. This is his third top six starting spot in four races run this season including two of which on the front row.

He’ll be joined on the front row by Denny Hamlin. The Joe Gibbs Racing driver turned in a lap of 129.931 mph in his No. 11 Toyota. This was his first top 10 starting spot of the season and 11th top 10 starting spot however in his last 12 Phoenix starts. In fact, he was on the front row for this race a year ago and has 7 starts in the top 2 Rows in the last 9 tries here.

Last weeks winner, William Byron (129.922 mph) starts third in his No. 24 Chevrolet. It’s the third time in the last four Phoenix races that he’s started third. He was on the front row last week.

Brad Keselowski (129.762 mph) and Christopher Bell (129.580 mph) rounds out the top five.

Larson Untouchable So Far

Kyle Larson has been in a league all to himself this weekend. Can he turn that into a win on Sunday?

The 2021 series champion turned a lap of 131.258 mph in his No. 5 Chevrolet near the onset of the 50-minute practice on Friday which held up to be P1 overall.

Larson was also quickest on the 10-lap average chart as well. He also starts on the pole.

This didn’t use to be one of his better tracks. Now it’s become one. Larson, has three Top-5 finishes in his last six Phoenix starts including being seventh and first respectively in 2021 and 34th and 9th last year. However, that spring race finish a year ago isn’t indicative on how strong his car was because he was seventh and fifth in the first 2 stages. The thing is, while having seven Top-10 finishes in his last eight Phoenix tries, Larson also has just one career win in 17 Phoenix starts in Cup as well. He is 0-for-1 in Trucks and 0-for-5 in the Xfinity Series.

SHR Looks Off Still After Qualifying

The Stewart-Haas Racing camp was something that I was watching this weekend and unfortunately, they were off in qualifying. Kevin Harvick (15th) was their top qualifier while the other three (Chase Briscoe, Ryan Preece and Aric Almirola) roll off 24th, 25th and 31st respectively.

Starting position matters so much in Phoenix too. 10 of the last 11 Phoenix winners have come from a top 10 starting spot. In fact, 14 of the last 17 have started in the first 5 Rows including 8 of the last 9 from the top 6 at that.

Harvick did finish sixth from a 16th place starting spot last year so it’s not like he can’t at least get inside the top 10. Also, his first Phoenix win came from the 15th starting spot. Can his last?

Harvick also won from the 19th (Fall 2012) start spot, 13th (Spring 2014), 18th (Spring 2016) and 10th (Spring 2018).

The concerning part is that Briscoe qualified sixth and third respectively a year ago while Almirola was 5th and 13th himself. They each need good finishes on Sunday.

Stewart-Haas Racing sits 3rd (Kevin Harvick), 21st (Aric Almirola), 31st (Ryan Preece) and 32nd (Chase Briscoe) in points after the first three weeks and needs to get their season turned around quickly. This organization is otherwise reeling outside of Harvick. Aric Almirola has finished 21st, 35th and 16th this season respectively. Chase Briscoe was 35th, 20th and 28th himself. Ryan Preece has been 36th, 33rd and 23rd.

Overnight Improvements

The one thing I felt like having a practice this weekend hurt was the fact that teams could make adjustments overnight and put them on these cars before qualifying on Saturday afternoon. With the most recent way of doing things, teams pretty much qualified and raced what they brought. However, with having a longer practice session the day prior, it’s allowed teams to adapt to the new package and made changes to their cars. I have no doubt that played a role in qualifying today.

Denny Hamlin was 19th quickest on Friday but is now on the front row. Christopher Bell went from 24th to 5th. Ross Chastain from 26th on Friday to sixth on Saturday. Michael McDowell from 30th to 7th. Erik Jones from 27th to 10th and Kyle Busch from 29th to 9th.

United Rentals Work United 500 Starting Lineup

Row 1: Kyle Larson, Denny Hamlin

Row 2: William Byron, Brad Keselowski

Row 3: Christopher Bell, Ross Chastain

Row 4: Michael McDowell, Ryan Blaney

Row 5: Kyle Busch, Erik Jones

Row 6: Daniel Suarez, Tyler Reddick

Row 7: Martin Truex Jr., Ty Gibbs R

Row 8: Kevin Harvick, Joey Logano

Row 9: Josh Berry, Alex Bowman

Row 10: Bubba Wallace, Austin Cindric

Row 11: Chris Buescher, AJ Allmendinger

Row 12: Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Chase Briscoe

Row 13: Ryan Preece, Justin Haley

Row 14: Harrison Burton, Corey LaJoie

Row 15: Todd Gilliland, Austin Dillon

Row 16: Aric Almirola, Noah Gragson R

Row 17: BJ McLeod, Zane Smith

Row 18: Ty Dillon, Cody Ware

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