Ryan Blaney has taken pole position for this Sunday’s Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Can-Am 500 at Phoenix International Raceway. Blaney’s pole for the #21 Wood Brothers Racing team is the second of his career, his first having come earlier in the season at Kansas.
Blaney’s lap of 26.098 seconds was enough to put him on pole position but by the slimmest of margins. Just one-thousandth of a second separated him from second-placed Denny Hamlin in #11 for Joe Gibbs Racing. It comes at an important time too for Blaney, as he is one of five drivers that will be fighting it out on Sunday for the last place in the championship four that will be battling for the title in next week’s season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
“We got better each round, which is all you can ask for, really,” said Blaney after qualifying, “I thought the last round was our best. We ran our fastest time, and it was enough. That says something strong about this team.
“I think we started second here in the spring, and to back that up and better it at a big weekend like this, where we have to perform well, that’s definitely encouraging, and it gets our weekend started off on a good foot. Hopefully, we can keep this momentum up and keep it going and see what we have for them on Sunday.”
The gap between first and second in qualifying wasn’t the only tight margin. Kyle Larson was within three-thousandths of Blaney in the #42 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet SS. Chase Elliott for Hendrick Motorsports and Martin Truex Jr for Furniture Row Racing filled out the remaining places in the top five; with all five under a blanket of one-tenth of a second. Elliott joins Blaney and Hamlin in the club of five of the current playoff contenders who are fighting for the final spot in the championship four. Truex is already locked into a spot, as is sixth-placed Kevin Harvick for Stewart-Haas Racing after his race win last week at Texas.
Matt Kenseth will line-up in seventh place for his penultimate race with Joe Gibbs Racing, with playoff contending team-mate Kyle Busch just behind in eighth. Kyle joins Truex and Harvick as one of the three drivers locked into the championship four. Joey Logano and Daniel Suarez will line-up ninth and tenth respectively, with Erik Jones and championship contender Jimmie Johnson completing the top twelve that made it to the final session of qualifying.
Brad Keselowski enters the weekend as the best-placed playoff contender. He sits fourth in the standings, but he will be the lowest-placed championship contender at the start of the race having qualified in sixteenth in the #2 Team Penske Ford Fusion.
“It’s a short race, and if there’s a track to qualify well, this is one of them,” Keselowski said. “It’s not where we want to start, but when the track gets hot and slick, we seem to run better here than when it cools off at night.
“I don’t know, maybe that’s my style. I’m not sure, but we’ll go race and see what we’ve got.”
The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series have two practice sessions between them and Sunday’s Can-Am 500. Just three-hundred and twelve laps separate five drivers from potentially earning a spot in the championship four that will fight for the 2017 title in a week’s time.
2017 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series – Can-Am 500 – Qualifying top twelve:
[table id=2683 /]
(P) – Playoff contender