Chase co-leader Denny Hamlin earns pole for Eliminator Round finale at Phoenix

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Denny Hamlin set a new Sprint Cup qualifying track record en route to a critical pole for Sunday’s Chase for the Sprint Cup Eliminator Round finale at Phoenix International Raceway.

Hamlin’s lap of 142.113 mph in the No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota was enough to earn him his third pole of 2014 and a psychological boost going into Sunday’s race, which will determine the four drivers that will compete for the Sprint Cup championship at Homestead-Miami Speedway next weekend.

Six of the eight Chasers advanced to the final round of qualifying, which began with Matt Kenseth (sixth in points, -1 point behind cutoff) being the first to post a time. Early on, Phoenix master Kevin Harvick (eighth, -6 points behind cutoff) hit the top with a lap of 141.995 mph, but he was eventually eclipsed by Hamlin’s 25.332-second blitz around the one-mile oval.

After qualifying, Hamlin admitted he wasn’t sure if his lap would hold up.

“[I just] hit my marks perfectly, and the adjustments kept getting better,” he told ESPN. “The team just kept making my car better and allowed me to drive harder and harder.

“We showed up today and had decent speed in race trim, not great speed but decent speed. But we didn’t show decent speed in qualifying and it just shows today that it’s possible. We’ve got it in our car. We just gotta get for 312 laps now.”

Hamlin and Chase co-leader Joey Logano both carry 13-point cushions over the cutoff to advance to Homestead. They each need finishes of 11th or better on Sunday to enter the final battle.

After Hamlin set his hot lap, Brad Keselowski (seventh, -5 points behind cutoff) moved up to second on the leader board with a lap of 142.079 mph in the No. 2 Team Penske Ford.

The Michigan native made another late run but was unable to get one spot better. Either way, he’ll be starting on the front row alongside Hamlin, who told reporters earlier this week that Keselowski must show more respect for his fellow racers after he and Jeff Gordon were at the center of a post-race fight last weekend at Texas Motor Speedway.

Harvick, who has won five times at PIR, will start third and is joined by Logano in the second row. Kenseth ultimately slid to Row 3, which he’ll share with Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Kyle Busch. Jeff Gordon (fourth, +1 point above cutoff) starts on the inside of Row 4.

Kurt Busch, who is now having to deal with allegations of domestic assault that came out just earlier today, qualified 10th.

The other two men in the Eliminator 8, Carl Edwards (fifth, -1 point behind cutoff) and Ryan Newman (third, +11 points above cutoff), qualified 13th and 20th respectively.

“The battle for us was that we were very slow in practice, but [crew chief] Jimmy [Fennig] and the guys did a great job,” Edwards said. “They basically rolled the dice, changed six things [on the car], and it worked…I know 13th’s not great, but considering that I thought we were gonna be 25th, I’m real happy.”

Meanwhile, Newman will now focus on improving the driveability of his Richard Childress Racing Chevy in the two practice sessions on Saturday.

“You only get so many options here to pit and work on your race car, so you better have it good on your first run,” said Newman.

NASCAR SPRINT CUP SERIES AT PHOENIX
Quicken Loans Race for Heroes 500 (Eliminator Round Finale)
Starting Lineup
1. 11-Denny Hamlin
2. 2-Brad Keselowski
3. 4-Kevin Harvick
4. 22-Joey Logano
5. 20-Matt Kenseth

6. 18-Kyle Busch
7. 24-Jeff Gordon
8. 42-Kyle Larson
9. 55-Brian Vickers
10. 41-Kurt Busch
11. 27-Paul Menard
12. 13-Casey Mears
13. 99-Carl Edwards
14. 78-Martin Truex Jr.
15. 48-Jimmie Johnson
16. 88-Dale Earnhardt Jr.
17. 15-Clint Bowyer
18. 17-Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
19. 1-Jamie McMurray
20. 31-Ryan Newman
21. 9-Marcos Ambrose
22. 5-Kasey Kahne
23. 43-Aric Almirola
24. 47-AJ Allmendinger
25. 3-Austin Dillon
26. 33-Ty Dillon
27. 51-Justin Allgaier
28. 16-Greg Biffle
29. 14-Tony Stewart
30. 7-Michael Annett
31. 95-Michael McDowell
32. 10-Danica Patrick
33. 36-Reed Sorenson
34. 38-David Gilliland
35. 34-David Ragan
36. 98-Josh Wise
37. 23-Alex Bowman
38. 40-Landon Cassill
39. 37-Mike Bliss
40. 26-Cole Whitt
41. 83-JJ Yeley
42. 32-Joey Gase
43. 66-Mike Wallace
DNQ: 75-Clay Rogers
Chase for the Sprint Cup drivers in italics

Report: Spencer Pigot out at Ed Carpenter Racing

Joe Skibinski / IndyCar
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Spencer Pigot will not return to Ed Carpenter Racing in 2020, according to a story Thursday by RACER.com.

The 26-year-old Floridian, who won the 2015 Indy Lights championship, is expected to be replaced in the No. 21 Chevrolet by 2019 Indy Lights runner-up Rinus VeeKay.

“I’m appreciative of the opportunity ECR gave me,” Pigot told RACER.com. “I understand the reasons they had to go in a different direction, and wish them all the best.”

In 56 NTT IndyCar Series starts, Pigot has 15 top 10 finishes, with a best finish of second at Iowa in 2018. He finished 14th in the 2019 point standings.

VeeKay, who tested in an Indy car twice for ECR in 2019, has six wins in 18 Indy Lights starts, including a weekend sweep of the final two rounds of the season at Laguna Seca in September.

A representative from ECR told NBC Sports Thursday that the team currently could not comment on any driver rumors as the team currently does not have any drivers under contract for the 2020 season, although it is presumed that owner/driver Carpenter will return to the No. 20 entry for the oval rounds.

NBC Sports will provide updates on the story once more information becomes available.