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The Journal Gazette

Saturday, March 10, 2018 1:00 am

Truex wins pole for Phoenix race

JOHN NICHOLSON | Associated Press

AVONDALE, Ariz. – Martin Truex Jr. won the pole Friday for the NASCAR Cup Series race Sunday at ISM Raceway.

The defending series champion turned a lap at 136.945 mph in the No. 78 Furniture Row Racing Toyota in the last of three rounds of qualifying on the mile oval. He edged Kyle Larson in 84-degree afternoon heat for his 16th career pole and second at Phoenix.

“We've qualified well here in the past, but we've been kind of been searching for those last couple spots,” Truex said. “We were fifth here in the fall and that was about all we can do. Just a good game plan and good execution by everybody. Definitely a fun day.”

Larson was the fastest in practice and topped the second round for Chip Ganassi Racing.

“We've been fast here the last few years, so it would be nice to close out the weekend with a win,” Larson said

Chase Elliott was third, followed by Tucson driver Alex Bowman, Joey Logano, Denny Hamlin, Kyle Busch, Jamie McMurray, Erik Jones and Kevin Harvick.

Harvick has a track-record eight victories and is coming off wins the last two weeks in Atlanta and Las Vegas.

“I look at making the final round as an accomplishment for me,” Harvick said. “My cars are always faster than the driver when we come to Phoenix qualifying sessions. Today was another Phoenix qualifying session where I messed it up. I got through 1 and 2, where I had been struggling, good and just got off the brake too soon and got it up the racetrack.”

Jimmie Johnson ended up 17th after topping the first round. The seven-time season champion is winless in 26 races, the longest drought of his career.

“I'm very optimistic with the speed in the car in that first round,” the four-time Phoenix winner said.

Harvick penalty

Harvick was stripped Wednesday of the playoff points he earned for winning at Las Vegas because of violations discovered on his Ford.

NASCAR ruled that Harvick's No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing team violated the rule requiring rear window support braces holding the rear window glass rigid, as well as a rule requiring the right side rocker panel extension to be aluminum.

The penalty is the loss of the seven playoff points Harvick earned for winning Sunday's race and both stages. It was Harvick's second consecutive win of the season.

Harvick also was docked 20 points. Harvick now has six playoff points instead of the 13 he had earned through three races.

Crew chief Rodney Childers was fined $50,000, and car chief Robert Smith was suspended two races.

Images of Harvick's popped up on social media with fans wondering if the car was legal because the window appeared altered. Childers has maintained a brace failed.

Home race

Bowman is in his first season as the retired Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s replacement in Hendrick Motorsports' No. 88 Chevrolet.

The 24-year-old from Tucson, Arizona, won the pole for the season-opening Daytona 500. He started 10 races in the No. 88 car in 2016 when Earnhardt was sidelined by a concussion, winning the pole and finishing a career-best sixth at Phoenix in the fall race.

“It's always fun to come home,” Bowman said. “Don't really get to spend a lot of time out here.”

Xfinity lineup

Jamie McMurray is making his first Xfinity Series start since September 2013 at Richmond, driving the No. 42 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet. Fellow Cup drivers Kyle Busch, Brad Keselowski and Ty Dillon also are racing today in the second-tier series.