Story By: REID SPENCER / NASCAR – AVONDALE, AZ – Ryan Blaney ended the day the way he started it—with the fastest car at ISM Raceway.
After leading opening Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series practice with the quickest lap of the day (141.716 mph), Blaney put his No. 12 Team Penske Ford on the pole for Sunday’s TicketGuardian 500 at the one-mile track.
Blaney covered the distance in 25.480 seconds (141.287 mph) in the final round of knockout qualifying to outpace Chase Elliott (140.045 mph) by a comfortable .203 seconds.
The Busch Pole Award was Blaney’s first of the season, his second at Phoenix and the six of his career, putting Blaney in good position to follow teammates Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano to Victory Lane, after their respective wins at Atlanta (Feb. 24) and Las Vegas (Mar. 3).
“We’ve just got to clean some stuff up,” said Blaney, who had a fast car at both Atlanta and Las Vegas, only to be done in by pit road snafus. “While it’s nice to have Penske winning, I’m selfish—I want to win. It’s good to have our cars really fast, and our finishes definitely don’t reflect how we’ve been running.”
“We’ve been really fast at all three places so far. If you keep bringing fast cars to the race track, ultimately, it’ll work out for you one of these times. I want to be part of the winning club here in the Penske group. It’s nice to have the whole team really fast right now. We fired out of the box really good this year, so hopefully we can just keep it going.”
DAYTONA 500 winner Denny Hamlin qualified third at 140.007 mph, followed by Joe Gibbs racing teammate Kyle Busch (139.855 mph) Keselowski, Alex Bowman, William Byron, nine-time winner Kevin Harvick, Martin Truex Jr., Erik Jones, Daniel Hemric, and Logano.
Elliott had mixed feelings about his front-row starting position.
“I hate qualifying second,” Elliott said. “We’ve qualified second out here last fall and then this one. But I guess he (Blaney) isn’t a bad one to qualify second to. But I look forward to Sunday.”
“I think our Hooters Camaro at least has a good place to start, and we can have a good pit selection. That’s important. We have a long race ahead. But I’d really like to get a pole outside of a (super)speedway track. We’ll try again next week.”
The first round of qualifying ended with a fracas between Ford drivers Michael McDowell and Daniel Suárez, neither whom made the top 24. Suarez accused McDowell of holding up the no. 41 Stewart-Haas Mustang on his crucial hot lap at the end of the session.
Suárez returned the favor by trying to wreck McDowell’s No. 34 Front Row Racing Ford after the fact.
After exiting his car, Suárez stepped over pit wall and advanced toward McDowell who made a preemptive strike and shoved Suárez. The two grappled, and Suárez body-slammed McDowell to the pavement before the two combatants were separated.
“I was just trying to get in his way like he did to me,” Suárez said. “I’m the kind of driver that I’m going to give a lot of respect to you always, if you give me respect back. If you don’t give me respect, I’m going to go kick your ass.”
McDowell said that, with most drivers waiting to post laps until time was running out on the first round, heavy traffic was inevitable.
“It was just miscommunication on the race track,” McDowell said. “We all kind of waited till the end, and then you just had a lot of traffic. Just unfortunate. He was upset that I held him up on his good lap, and then he tried to crash us. I just didn’t appreciate it.”
“It’s heat of the moment stuff. Just racing. Shorter practice session. Shorter qualifying. Getting late going through tech. The intensity ramps up. It’s all a part of it.”
Coincidentally, McDowell (27th) and Suárez (28th) will start side-by-side from the 14th row on Sunday.
Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Qualifying – 15th Annual TicketGuardian 500
Friday, March 8, 2019
1. (12) Ryan Blaney, Ford, 141.287 mph. 2. (9) Chase Elliott, Chevrolet, 140.171 mph. 3. (11) Denny Hamlin, Toyota, 140.007 mph. 4. (18) Kyle Busch, Toyota, 139.855 mph. 5. (2) Brad Keselowski, Ford, 139.849 mph. 6. (88) Alex Bowman, Chevrolet, 139.768 mph. 7. (24) William Byron, Chevrolet, 139.567 mph. 8. (4) Kevin Harvick, Ford, 139.411 mph. 9. (19) Martin Truex Jr., Toyota, 139.206 mph. 10. (20) Erik Jones, Toyota, 138.991 mph. 11. (8) Daniel Hemric #, Chevrolet, 138.846 mph. 12. (22) Joey Logano, Ford, 138.664 mph. 13. (3) Austin Dillon, Chevrolet, 138.867 mph.14. (10) Aric Almirola, Ford, 138.803 mph. 15. (48) Jimmie Johnson, Chevrolet, 138.803 mph. 16. (1) Kurt Busch, Chevrolet, 138.766 mph. 17. (21) Paul Menard, Ford, 138.739 mph. 18. (6) Ryan Newman, Ford, 138.696 mph. 19. (17) Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Ford, 138.520 mph. 20. (13) Ty Dillon, Chevrolet, 138.435 mph. 21. (47) Ryan Preece #, Chevrolet, 138.329 mph. 22. (37) Chris Buescher, Chevrolet, 137.452 mph. 23. (43) Bubba Wallace, Chevrolet, 136.939 mph. 24. (32) Corey LaJoie, Ford, 136.830 mph. 25. (95) Matt DiBenedetto, Toyota, 136.804 mph. 26. (14) Clint Bowyer, Ford, 136.560 mph 27. (34) Michael McDowell, Ford, 136.514 mph. 28. (41) Daniel Suarez, Ford, 136.472 mph. 29. (38) David Ragan, Ford, 136.457 mph. 30. (36) Matt Tifft #, Ford, 136.307 mph. 31. (42) Kyle Larson, Chevrolet, 134.786 mph. 32. (00) Landon Cassill, Chevrolet, 134.444 mph 33. (15) Ross Chastain(i), Chevrolet, 133.388 mph. 34. (51) Cody Ware #, Chevrolet, 129.636 mph. 35. (77) Quin Houff, Chevrolet, 125.672 mph. 36. (52) Bayley Currey(i), Ford, 0.000 mph.