Carl Edwards
Carl Edwards. Photo by Lynne Huntting
CARL EDWARDS/No.99 Ford is on pole for Sunday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Kobalt Tools 500 Race at Phoenix International Raceway. His best lap was 26.395/135.854 mph. He was especially pleased as it’s only his seventh pole in 228 Cup races – the last three coming in 2010.

Second was AJ ALLMENDINGER/No.43 Ford, who was leading until pipped by Edwards. Allmendinger also led for a spell during the earlier practice session before ending up sixth. KURT BUSCH/No.2 Dodge-who was on top for awhile; GREG BIFFLE/No.16 Ford; and JAMIE McMURRAY/No.1 Chevrolet rounded out the top five. Three of them are Chase drivers – Edwards, Busch, and Biffle.

Edwards said “When I saw Kurt’s lap, I thought, ‘Man, that’s fast.  There’s no way anybody is gonna beat that.’  I didn’t even ask what AJ’s lap was.  I didn’t want to know, and I still don’t know what it is, but our lap was really good.

“Track position is important at Phoenix as the race is short and passing is difficult. It’s very important to start up front. That’s one of the things we’ve been focusing on is qualifying.  We’ve had three poles, I think, in the second half of the season and I think I’ve only got seven poles in my career. We’ve focused on it and it’s been working. It’s because everyone is so competitive and the field is separated by such a small amount, so that first pit stall will help us and that clean air at the beginning of the race will help us. Hopefully, I can race mistake-free and capitalize on all that.”

The top three Cup drivers broke the existing track record of 26.499 set by RYAN NEWMAN in November, 2004.

AJ Allmendinger
AJ Allmendinger. Photo by Lynne Huntting
Allmendinger acknowledged that it’s no secret what his RPM team is going through right now (the unknown future of Richard Petty Motorsports) and “It’s a tough time. Everybody is sticking together and fighting hard to go out there and perform. We’ve shown that, no matter what, it’s not gonna get us off our game.

“It (racing) is such a cut-throat sport – no secret there. Tough sport in tough times – we could easily give up or start fighting each other and it’s no more motivation. These guys are fighting hard. I’m just going out there and trying to drive the wheels off this thing every weekend. I’m proud to be here. We know The King and ROBBIE LOOMIS, all the guys, they’re doing what they can to resolve these problems and we’re just gonna put our heads down and do our jobs.”

Allmendinger said the qualifying trim is pretty good. He doesn’t know how good the car will be in race trim.

Forty-six drivers ran in qualifying. Three drivers took provisionals, based on Owner Points and for being a past champion. Those who didn’t make the race were Go or Go Home drivers, JASON LEFFLER/No.66 Toyota; JOE NEMECHEK/No.87 Toyota; and MICHAEL McDOWELL/No.46 Chevrolet.

This weekend’s race is more than critical or crucial to The Chase, as it’s the penultimate round. DENNY HAMLIN/No.11 Toyota leads the standings, 33 points ahead of four-time Cup Champion, JIMMIE JOHNSON/No.48 Chevrolet – who had been leading much of the summer. Hamlin’s starting position of seventeenth isn’t so great, but it’s ahead of Johnson, three places back in P21. KEVIN HARVICK/No.29 Chevrolet still has a mathematical chance at the prize, 59 points back. It will be easy for him to remember his starting position – it’s 29.

There are fifteen Chevy’s in the Cup race with one DNQ; twelve Toyotas with two DNQ’s; twelve Fords; and four Dodges.

Sunday’s race starts at 1 pm local (Mountain) time/3 pm EST, and will be telecast live on ESPN.