KYLE BUSCH, No.18 M&M’s Toyota set a new NASCAR Sprint Cup Series qualifying track record Friday afternoon at Phoenix International Raceway, with a lap of 25.943/138.766 mph. He was the last of 44 drivers to qualify for Sunday’s 25th Annual AdvoCare 500 race, and by then the weather had turned decidedly gloomier and cooler. Rowdy, as Busch is sometimes called, was also fastest in the first/only practice session in the heat of the warm, sunny noontime.
Friday’s pole position was Busch’s second this season, and his tenth career pole in 292 Cup races.
Qualifying second through fifth were MARTIN TRUEX, JR/No.56 Toyota,; DENNY HAMLIN/No.11 Toyota; KASEY KAHNE/No.5 Chevrolet and ARIC ALMIROLA/No.43 Ford. STEPHEN LEICHT/No.33 Chevrolet was the top Rookie of two, placing thirty-fifth. The driver not making the show was J.J. YELEY/No.37 Chevrolet.
The top two Chase contenders, JIMMIE JOHNSON/No.48 Chevrolet and BRAD KESELOWSKI/No.2 Dodge, will start twenty-fourth and fourteenth, respectively. Points leader Johnson was eighteenth in the qualifying queue, and Keselowski was twenty-fourth.
Weather during qualifying was a factor. Busch said “The weather changed during Qualifying. Jimmie and Brad qualified in the sun. Then it clouded over, and you could feel it shaded the whole track and turned bad. The (track) lights were better than the sun.”
Busch said he qualified on used scuffs, after running three sets of sticker tires in the earlier practice session.
The cooler weather, according to Goodyear, means the track has more grip. The track cooled from 84 degrees at the start of Qualifying down to 71 degrees, a thirteen degree difference. The ambient temperature dropped five degrees, from 73 to 68 degrees. It was windy and felt cooler.
All three NASCAR top tier series running at PIR this weekend run the exact same tire. According to Goodyear, the only difference is the word “Wrangler” on the tires for the Camping World Truck Series. When tires are interchanged among the series, the “Wrangler” is removed for Cup and Nationwide Series cars.
The Sprint Cup race grid is comprised of 17 Chevrolets, twelve each for Ford and Toyota, and two Dodges.
In the midday practice session, second through fifth fastest – behind Busch – were Hamlin; CLINT BOWYER/No.15 Toyota; Kahne; and Truex. Johnson was twenty-seventh and Keselowski was twenty-first.
The subject of swirling rumors of the done deal between KEVIN HARVICK/No.29 Chevrolet and TONY STEWART/No.14 Chevrolet was broached to Stewart, who smiled and joked. “I will tell you this, when we have something to tell you guys, we’ll tell you. I’ve always said that. You guys can throw darts, but when we have something to tell you that’s different than what we’ve got going on, we’ll obviously tell you.”
Harvick and Stewart were fourteenth and fifteenth, respectively, in the morning practice. Stewart qualified ninth, with Harvick starting nineteenth.
Sunday’s 500 km/312-lap race will air live at 2pm ET/noon local time on ESPN.