Amanda Vincent, NASCAR Correspondent
Matt Kenseth, driver of the No. 17 Roush Fenway Racing Ford, turned in a lap time of 26.258 seconds at Phoenix International Raceway on Saturday to claim the pole starting spot for Sunday’s Kobalt Tools 500 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race.
A.J. Allmendinger claimed the other front row starting spot for his No. 43 Richard Petty Motorsports Ford with a qualifying lap time of 26.384 seconds. Ford claimed the top-three spots on the starting grid, as Marcos Ambrose took third in the No. 9 Richard Petty Motorsports Ford with a lap time of 26.411.
Jimmy (Fenning) had a strategy to go out in the first practice and go out late (in qualifying).
“It felt horrible, treacherous and nasty,” Ambrose said of his lap on the new repaved and reconfigured track.
The highest-qualifying non-Ford was the No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet, driven by Mark Martin. Martin turned in a 26.455-second qualifying lap for the fourth starting spot. Martin Truex Jr. rounded out the top-five in qualifying, mirroring Martin’s 26.455-second lap in his No. 56 Michael Waltrip Racing Toyota.
While most of the cars on the track during Sprint Cup Series practice at the track on Friday topped Carl Edwards qualifying record of 26.224 seconds, that record remained untouched once qualifying got underway.
“It is definitely slower,” Edwards said. “It was pretty exciting out there. I saw David Gilliland. I was most impressed with him. He almost hit the fence, went all the way back and almost did it again. This is pretty neat.”
Ambrose was the 21st driver to go out onto the racetrack during qualifying and claimed the provisional pole. He held the top spot through the qualifying attempts of 18 others before being knocked from the top of the scoring pylon 19 drivers later by his teammate, Allmendinger.
“That was insane,” Allmendinger said of his qualifying lap. “The track is way different than what we had yesterday, and the Wix Filters Ford was fast. (Crew chief) Greg Irwin and everyone at RPM did a good job. Marcos put a good lap up and explained to us what the track was going to be like.”
Allmendinger almost kept the pole long enough, finally being replaced up front by Kenseth, who was the next-to-last driver to make a qualifying attempt.
“We watched everyone else and, obviously, there were a lot of people low on grip, and it looked like the track and cars were a lot looser than yesterday (in practice),” Kenseth said. “Everyone had a different strategy. (Crew chief) Jimmy (Fenning) had a strategy to go out in the first practice and go out late (in qualifying). Even though the temperature would be hotter, he thought the track could be faster with more cars having run on it.”
The two primary championship contenders, Edwards in the No. 99 Roush Fenway Racing Ford and Tony Stewart in the No. 14 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet were the only two Chase for the Sprint Cup drivers other that Kenseth to qualify in the top-10. Stewart claimed the eighth starting spot with a 26.488-second lap, and Edwards qualified ninth, turning in a lap time of 26.529 seconds.
Of the 46 drivers attempting to obtain spots on the starting grid for Sunday’s race, Andy Lally, David Stremme and Scott Riggs were the three drivers who failed to make the race.