Kyle Busch led a Joe Gibbs Racing qualifying parade at Phoenix International Raceway Friday. Busch was able to win his third pole at Phoenix and the 18th of his career with a lap of 26.014, 138.387 mph late in the final session. Unlike the second race of the season at Atlanta where he won the pole only to see it stripped after failing inspection, there were no issues for the reigning Sprint Cup champion Friday night as he earned his first official pole since Pocono Raceway last August.
His JGR teammate Carl Edwards will start second, followed by JGR racer Denny Hamlin in third. The fourth Joe Gibbs entry for Matt Kenseth will start sixth Sunday.
“I saw the attitude heading to Phoenix last year and it was all hands on deck and that was what was pretty interesting when we sat in meetings,” Edwards said. “It was, ‘Hey, we have to fix what’s wrong. We have to get faster.’ And, it’s pretty intense. Guy over there (Kyle Busch) they are 100 percent competitors. I mean the lawyer spirit, just we are going to win no matter what it takes. And then the other thing I think, you mentioned my teammates, I believe it’s a very unique and very special thing we have where everybody is pushing each other, motivating one another and also helping each other.”
While the JGR teams celebrated, the four car powerhouse of Hendrick Motorsports wondered what went wrong. The teams all struggled in the three rounds of qualifying; Dale Earnhardt Jr. failed to advance past the first round for the first time since Richmond last fall and rookie Chase Elliott made it past the first round but not out of the second. It was the cars of Kasey Kahne and Jimmie Johnson who suffered the most. Both made it into the second round, but Kahne who had just put down the second fastest lap, slowed entering turn four with smoke exiting the hood around the 8-minute mark forcing NASCAR to halt the session. The car was towed back to the pits and the team reported a blown engine that will need changed.
“I got out of the car about when it started smoking,” Kahne said. “But I shut the car off in Turn 1 after I took the lap, and then in Turn 3 it started smoking a little. And then, I could hear it running. So, I shut everything off, batteries, everything in there. And then I got out and it was still running. It just kept running until I drove away in the ambulance. So, I don’t know. I’m just really confused on what was going on. I have no idea.”
Kahne’s team later said the engine likely went into EFI ‘protection mode’ and essentially blew-up.
Johnson did make it into the final five minute session and had just put down a quick lap behind pole winner Busch to go second when disaster struck. Johnson had some sort issue that prevented him from turning. His Chevy crashed hard into the wall forcing the second red flag of qualifying. Johnson was uninjured but the team will need to go to a backup car on Sunday, where he will join Kahne at the back of the field.
“I don’t know for sure,” Johnson said when asked what had happened. “That’s why we have to go back to the truck and talk about things. But, certainly, a lot of straight in an area of the track that I didn’t need to have straight. So, we’ll have to get to the bottom of it and see what went on. But, just a really hard impact to the outside wall. I’m thankful that we have Safer Barriers and soft walls. I’m very disappointed because we had a very fast race car and the guys have been working so hard to get this thing tuned-up.”
Johnson later Tweeted that his steering wheel had come off. He added that he wanted to tell the team first and that was the reason he was so vague with his interview immediately after the incident.
Kurt Busch who led the lone practice session earlier Friday led the second session. Hamlin who was second in the practice session led the first round of qualifying. The full qualifying results can be found here.
Behind Johnson in sixth and Kenseth in seventh, Larson, Truex, Stenhouse and McMurray round out the top 10. With 39 entries for 40 spots all who entered will race Sunday. The full line up can be found here. The NASCAR Sprint Cup Good Sam 500 will get the green flag Sunday just after 3:30 p.m. ET with live coverage on Fox.