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!
TIL THE NEXT TIME, I AM STILL WORKING ON MY REDNECK!