The Toyotas of Joe Gibbs Racing look strong as NASCAR moves to Phoenix for the second stop of its West Coast swing on Sunday. Kyle Busch earned the Good Sam 500(k) pole, followed by teammates Carl Edwards and Denny Hamlin for a sweep of the top three during qualifying.
However, they'll have to rise above the challenge brought by Kevin Harvick, the defending champion of the spring race at the track. Harvick, a seven-time Sprint Cup series winner at Phoenix, will start on the ninth row after qualifying 18th.
Race coverage begins at 3 p.m. (ET) on FOX with the green flag set for approximately 3:41 p.m.
Harvick led 224 of 312 laps during the March 2015 race, surviving a late challenge from Jamie McMurray on the final restart to pick up his fourth consecutive victory at Phoenix. However, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. won the Chase race at the track last November to halt the streak.
"It's obviously been a great race track for me personally, but really for the last two years at Stewart-Haas Racing it's been phenomenal," Harvick said Friday. "We have won three of the four races and got beat by the rain in the last one. All-in-all it's been a lot of fun to come here."
Harvick qualified at 136.893 mph on Friday, notably behind Busch's 138.387. Earnhardt's speed was even worse: 135.527, good for just 26th of 39 drivers.
There is hope, though. Harvick posted the top practice speed during Happy Hour on Saturday, with Chevrolets taking five of the top six times.
The driver of the No. 4 Jimmie John's Chevy isn't ready to name anyone a favorite, however. Through three races, each of the manufacturers has picked up a victory with wins by Hamlin's Toyota at Daytona, Jimmie Johnson's Chevy at Atlanta and Brad Keselowski's Ford at Las Vegas.
"You never really know where the twists and turns of the race are going to go," Harvick said. "The cars are so close and so competitive now that you have to have everything go your way on a particular day as well in order to win the races."
Three cars will drop to the back of the pack to open the race: Jimmie Johnson (backup car), Michael Annett (backup car) and Kasey Kahne (engine). Johnson was forced into his backup after crashing hard into the wall during qualifying. He later accepted the blame for accidentally pulling his steering wheel out of the steering column while accelerating. Seriously.
"As I pulled on the wheel it just came off in my hands," Johnson said. "I was just sitting there with no steering and holding the steering wheel staring at the blue wall and I was along for the ride at that point.
"I remember looking down at the steering shaft and seeing it spinning and I knew there was no way I could get the wheel back on.
Good Sam 500(k)
|8||78||Martin Truex Jr||136.934|
|10||17||Ricky Stenhouse Jr||136.752|
|26||88||Dale Earnhardt Jr||135.527|
*Jimmie Johnson (backup car), Kasey Kahne (engine) and Michael Annett (backup car) will start the race at the back of the pack.
Time: Green flag approximately 3:44 p.m., Sunday
Location: Phoenix International Raceway
Track dimensions: 1.0 mile tri-oval
Length: 312 laps
TV: 2 p.m. RaceDay coverage on Fox Sports 1 // 3 p.m. prerace coverage on FOX // 3:30 p.m. race coverage on FOX
Streaming: Fox Sports Go
Radio: Motor Racing Network and SiriusXM Ch. 90