AVONDALE, Ariz. – Kyle Larson edged out Denny Hamlin to secure the pole position for Sunday’s NASCAR Cup Series race at Phoenix Raceway. The driver of No. 5 HendrickCars.com Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 was .065 seconds faster to earn the top starting spot in the final round of group qualifying.
Larson’s lap of 130.237 mph at the 1-mile track earned him the 15th pole of his career and the first of 2023 for the driver as well as Hendrick Motorsports. The 30-year-old has four career Cup wins from the pole position with the most recent of those coming in the 2021 championship race at this track.
"Qualifying is really important here." Larson said. "We got the pole in 2021 and that really helped us win the championship race. Joey (Logano) had an extremely fast car in the fall last year, but he got the pole as well and won. So I think that number one pit stall means a lot. Happy to be quick this weekend; quick in practice and have it translate to qualifying."
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In 17 starts at the 1-mile facility, the Elk Grove, California, native has one win, five top-five finishes and 10 top-10s. Over his last eight Cup Series races in Arizona, Larson has finished outside the top 10 once. He is coming off a runner-up finish at Las Vegas Motor Speedway last weekend as part of Hendrick Motorsports’ top-three sweep in the race.
William Byron earned a starting spot of third to give him his second straight starting spot inside the top four. The driver of the No. 24 Valvoline Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 posted a lap of 129.922 mph in the final round of qualifying. Byron is the most recent winner in the Cup Series with his victory at Las Vegas Motor Speedway last weekend. At Phoenix, he has five top-10 finishes – three of those have come in his last five races at the Avondale, Arizona, facility.
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Josh Berry will start 17th in the No. 9 Kelley Blue Book Chevrolet Camaro ZL1, while Alex Bowman is set to line up next to him in 18th. The driver of the No. 48 Ally Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 is second in the point standings and is one of two drivers in the Cup Series to earn top-10 finishes in the season’s first three races. Bowman’s sixth-place finish at Phoenix in 2016 – where he started on the pole and led 194 laps – stands as the Tucson, Arizona, native’s best result at his home track.
Berry drove the No. 9 at Las Vegas following Elliott’s surgery for a fractured tibia suffered in a snowboarding accident last week. Berry, who drives for affiliate team JR Motorsports in the NASCAR Xfinity Series, will drive the No. 9 on upcoming oval tracks, while road racing standout Jordan Taylor will run the race at Circuit of The Americas. Elliott, who won the 2020 Cup Series championship at Phoenix, is expected to be out for the next six races.
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In Friday’s 50-minute practice session, Larson topped the board there as well, while Bowman was third. On the 10-lap average board, Larson was first and Byron ranked fifth. For 15-lap averages, Larson and Byron placed in the top two.
Following qualifying, Larson was asked where he thought he was beating the rest of the field.
"I felt like my ability to roll some center-corner speed in (turns) one and two kind of gave me a little bit of an advantage," he said. "There’s definitely some cars that are better than me in (turns) three and four, but we’re all so competitive over there too. I feel like there’s a lot of room behind the wheel to get a lot better in (turns) three and four. I think my car is fine. I think I just need to do some things different and get even better in (turns) three and four and then we should be really good."
Friday's extra practice time came because the new short oval and road course rules package debuting this weekend at the 1-mile track. The changes for this package will result in a reduction in downforce with a two-inch rear spoiler, instead of the current four-inch spoiler, as well as the removal of three diffuser strakes, engine panel strakes and trimming the diffuser's outer fencing.
With 12 wins, Hendrick Motorsports is the winningest team in the track’s history. Jimmie Johnson leads the team with four wins while Jeff Gordon accounts for two. Kyle Busch, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Elliott, Terry Labonte, Larson and Mark Martin have each won a single race for squad in the Arizona desert. The team also holds the top marks in poles (14), top-five finishes (52), top-10s (96) and laps led (3,170).
The 312-lap Cup Series race is scheduled for 3:30 p.m. ET on Sunday, with coverage on FOX, MRN Radio and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio (Channel 90).