Avondale, Ariz. — Ryan Blaney turned the fastest lap in practice and never slowed down in qualifying, putting his No. 12 Ford on the pole Friday for this weekend’s race at ISM Raceway.
Blaney turned a lap of 141.287 mph to keep Penske Racing’s early season success going. It was his sixth career pole but first of the season, and came on the heels of teammate Brad Keselowski’s victory at Atlanta and Joey Logano’s win last weekend at Las Vegas.
“It’s nice to have Penske winning,” Blaney said, “but I’m selfish and I want to win. It’s nice to have our cars really fast. Our finishes haven’t reflected how we’ve been running.”
Blaney led 13 laps in the Daytona 500 before crashing out. He led 41 laps at Atlanta before a problem on pit road ruined the day. He had a tire problem on his first pit stop last week at Las Vegas, forcing his No. 12 team to play catch-up the rest of the way.
“We keep bringing fast cars to the racetrack, hopefully it will work out for you one of those times,” Blaney said. “I want to be part of the win-group here at Penske.”
Chase Elliott will start on the outside of the first row, while Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch will start from Row 2. Keselowski rounded out the top five in another strong start to a weekend.
“You can never settle, I feel like, even though Penske is the best group right now,” Blaney said. “We’re still working every day to get better and better. The speed is there, we just need to stop running into issues and we’ll be pretty good.”
Elliott finally gave team owner Rick Hendrick a reason to believe his Chevrolet-powered teams are turning a corner after two tough years. Jimmie Johnson and the rest of them have struggled again so far this season, but Elliott’s fast lap of 140.17 mph in qualifying put him on the first row.
“I hate qualifying second. We’ve qualified second out here last fall and this one,” said Elliott, the only Hendrick driver in the top 10 last week at Las Vegas. “Pit selection is important, a long race ahead, but I’d really love to get a pole outside of a speedway track.”
The biggest action in qualifying came after the opening round, when Daniel Suarez and Michael McDowell got into a fight. Suarez was upset that McDowell had gotten in his way, ruining both of their qualifying attempts, and it took several crew members to pull them apart.
At one point, Suarez spun McDowell around and tossed him to the ground.
“Just miscommunication on the track,” McDowell said. “He was upset that we held him up on his good lap and then he tried to crash us and I didn’t appreciate it.”
Arizona native Alex Bowman and William Byron qualified sixth and seventh, giving Chevrolet three cars in the top 10. Kevin Harvick, Martin Truex Jr. and Erik Jones rounded out the top 10.
“We’ve struggled the last couple weeks with just balance from practice to race and qualifying and just got tighter every time. I don’t know what we’ve got going on there,” Jones said. “We’ll just have to work from there and see what happens. Feel good about it. I like the track a lot.”
Clint Bowyer and Kyle Larson joined Suarez and McDowell in dropping out in the first round of eliminations, which means poor pit stalls and a whole host of cars between them and the front of the field.