Team Penske driver Ryan Blaney earned his third career Phoenix Raceway pole position on Saturday afternoon and will line up alongside Joe Gibbs Racing’s Denny Hamlin to lead the field to green in Sunday’s Ruoff Mortgage 500 (3:30 p.m., FOX, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).
It is the best race start of the season for both drivers, who are eager to rebound after uncharacteristic tough luck in the opening three races of 2022.
Blaney, driver of the No. 12 Team Penske Ford has only a single Top-10 finish this year (fourth in the Daytona 500) and is coming off a hard-luck 36th place showing last week at Las Vegas after being collected in an early race accident not of his own doing.
“Good race trim and was happy, obviously, with the speed in qualifying,’’ said Blaney, who now has seven career NASCAR Cup Series pole positions.
“Proud of everybody on this 12 group and definitely needed it after our early end last week at Vegas. Hopefully we can stay up front tomorrow and have a shot at it,’’ he added, noting he has already put his Vegas bad luck out of mind.
“You just look past it,’’ he said, “I try not to stew on those things. Those things happen and you can’t let it get to you too much. It’s better to have fast cars and unfortunate things happen to you because at least you have fast cars.”
Hamlin, driver of the No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota, is also hoping a good start will translate into a good finish. He won two races in 2021 and was racing in the Championship Four the last time the series competed at Phoenix, but has struggled this season with DNFs in two of the opening three races this year. His best finish is 15th at Auto Club Speedway and he’s ranked 29th in the standings heading into to the Phoenix green flag.
Hamlin is a two-time Phoenix winner, however taking the trophy in 2012 and 2019 – and he has top-five finishes in five of the last six races there. Three times he’s led at least 100 laps in a race and his 854 laps led is second only to nine-time race winner Kevin Harvick.
“Proud of our whole team for getting this thing out front, now we’ve just got to stay there,’’ Hamlin said.
Hendrick Motorsports’ William Byron was third fastest in qualifying followed by Joe Gibbs Racing’s Christopher Bell and Stewart-Haas Racing’s Aric Almirola.
Stewart-Haas Racing’s Chase Briscoe, Hendrick Motorsports’ Kyle Larson, Team Penske’s rookie Austin Cindric, last week’s race winner Hendrick Motorsports’ Alex Bowman, and Team Penske’s Joey Logano round out the Top-10 starting positions all advancing to the second round of qualifying on Saturday.
Harvick, a nine-time Phoenix winner, will start 16th. Defending race winner Martin Truex Jr. will roll off 20th.
— NASCAR Wire Service —