By AMANDA VINCENT
Last weekend’s race winner at Texas Motor Speedway, Jimmie Johnson, claimed the pole for Sunday’s Quicken Loans Race for Heroes 500 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Phoenix International Raceway. He did so with a track-record lap of 25.147 seconds/143.158 mph in the third of three rounds of qualifying at the track on Friday. It’s his first pole of the 2015 season but his third at PIR.
“Qualifying has never really been my sweet spot,” Johnson said. “It’s nice to get one (pole). I definitely wanted one this year. I didn’t think it would come at this ‘new’ Phoenix race track. The ‘old’ Phoenix was real good to us, but we have been searching to get it right here. I’m just so thankful that everybody on this No. 48 team and everybody at Hendrick Motorsports have been working so hard to get better. We picked up a lot in many places, or a little in a lot of places I should say, and it’s turned into a lot.”
Johnson improved throughout the qualifying session. After posting only the 16th-fastest lap in round one, he improved to third in round two before his fastest lap time of round three.
Johnson will be joined on the front row Sunday by Chase for the Sprint Cup competitor and fellow-Chevrolet driver, Kurt Busch.
“It can mean a lot of different things, but most importantly is the car has speed,” Busch said of his front-row starting spot. “That is the biggest thing that I take away from a Friday qualifying session. The way it acted in race trim and the way the team put together this great set-up and great car, I feel like I let them down a little bit in qualifying. That is how good the car feels. To be outside pole, that is a great start.”
Another Chevrolet driver and one of Johnson’s Hendrick Motorsports teammates, Dale Earnhardt Jr. qualified third. In all, four Chevrolet’s qualified in the top-five, with another Chaser, Martin Truex Jr., qualifying fifth. The only non-Chevrolet driver to qualify in the top-five was Chase driver, Carl Edwards, who qualified fourth.
Three other Chase drivers advanced to the final round to claim top-12 spots on the starting grid. Joining Busch, Edwards and Truex in the top-12 were Kevin Harvick in eighth and Kyle Busch and Jeff Gordon in 10th and 11th. Gordon was the fastest in the first round of qualifying, posting a 25.399-second/141.738 mph lap, while Kurt Busch was fastest in round two with a 25.178-second/142.982 mph lap.
The two remaining Chase drivers, Team Penske Teammates Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski, failed to advance to the third round. Instead they wound up 14th and 18th in round two and will start in those positions on Sunday.
Here’s the complete starting grid for the Quicken Loans Race for Heroes 500:
Row 1 — Jimmie Johnson (No. 48 Chevrolet), Kurt Busch (No. 41 Chevrolet)
Row 2 — Dale Earnhardt (No. 88 Chevrolet), Carl Edwards (No. 19 Toyota)
Row 3 — Martin Truex Jr. (No. 78 Chevrolet), Kyle Larson (No. 42 Chevrolet)
Row 4 — Erik Jones (No. 20 Toyota), Kevin Harvick (No. 4 Chevrolet)
Row 5 — Kasey Kahne (No. 5 Chevrolet), Kyle Busch (No. 18 Toyota)
Row 6 — Jeff Gordon (No. 24 Chevrolet), Jamie McMurray (No. 1 Chevrolet)
Row 7 — Denny Hamlin (No. 11 Toyota), Joey Logano (No. 22 Ford)
Row 8 — Paul Menard (No. 27 Chevrolet), Austin Dillon (No. 3 Chevrolet)
Row 9 — Aric Amirola (No. 43 Ford), Brad Keselowski (No. 2 Ford)
Row 10 — Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (No. 17 Ford), Greg Biffle (No. 16 Ford)
Row 11 — Danica Patrick (No. 10 Chevrolet), Ryan Newman (No. 31 Chevrolet)
Row 12 — A.J. Allmendinger (No. 47 Chevrolet), Casey Mears (No. 13 Chevrolet)
Row 13 — Justin Allgaier (No. 51 Chevrolet), Trevor Bayne (No. 6 Ford)
Row 14 — Clint Bowyer (No. 15 Toyota), Sam Hornish Jr. (No. 9 Ford)
Row 15 — David Ragan (No. 55 Toyota), Matt DiBenedetto (No. 83 Toyota)
Row 16 — Tony Stewart (No. 14 Chevrolet), Landon Cassill (No. 40 Chevrolet)
Row 17 — J.J. Yeley (No. 26 Toyota), David Gilliland (No. 38 Ford)
Row 18 — Alex Bowman (No. 7 Chevrolet), Michael Annett (No. 46 Chevrolet)
Row 19 — Jeb Burton (No. 23 Toyota), Cole Whitt (No. 35 Ford)
Row 20 — Joey Gase (No. 32 Ford), Brett Moffitt (No. 34 Ford)
Row 21 — Ryan Preece (No. 98 Ford), Ryan Ellis (No. 33 Chevrolet)
Row 22 — Timmy Hill (No. 62 Chevrolet)
DNQ (did not qualify): none
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