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

Ryan Hunter-Reay hired as replacement for Conor Daly at Ed Carpenter Racing

Ryan Hunter-Reay Carpenter
Michael Allio/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images
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Ryan Hunter-Reay was named to replace Conor Daly in Ed Carpenter Racing’s No. 20 Dallara-Chevrolet, starting in the NTT IndyCar Series event next week at Road America.

Hunter-Reay is the 2012 series champion and 2014 Indianapolis 500 winner. He finished 11th for Dreyer & Reinbold last month in the 107th Indy 500, his first start since the 2021 season finale. He drove full time for Andretti Autosport from 2010-21.

“We need to improve our competitiveness and I wanted to add a fresh perspective from a driver like Ryan who has a massive amount of experience and success as well as a reputation as a team leader. I am excited to welcome Ryan to the team,” team owner Ed Carpenter said in a team release. “We have worked together in the past as teammates and he tested for ECR at Barber Motorsports Park in October 2021, where he made an immediate impact as we were able to qualify one of our cars on the pole following that test. I am confident that his experience and technical abilities will be an asset to ECR as we move forward toward our goals as a team.”

Hunter-Reay has 18 IndyCar victories, most recently in 2018. He also is a winner in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, having been a part of winning entries in the 2020 Twelve Hours of Sebring and 2018 Petit Le Mans. Last year, he was an endurance driver for Cadillac Racing while being on standby for Chip Ganassi Racing.

He replaces Daly, whose departure was announced a day earlier in what the driver and team said was a mutual decision.

“I was surprised when I got the call from Ed,” Hunter-Reay said in a team release. “He described how frustrated he was that his team has not been able to realize its potential despite their efforts, investments, as well as technical and personnel changes over the past few years and asked for my help. Ed and I are very close friends and have been for a long time. I’ve worked with the team in the past and they are a very talented group with high expectations and a committed partner in BITNILE.COM.

“This will certainly be a challenge for me as well. It’s a tough situation jumping in a car in the middle of the season without any testing in what I believe to be the most competitive series in the world. Certainly, part of my motivation in saying ‘yes’ to Ed is the great challenge ahead. The last time I turned right driving an NTT IndyCar Series car was in October of 2021 with this team at Barber. However, I remain very confident in both my driving and technical abilities and believe by working with the talented people at ECR and Team Chevy, while representing BITNILE.COM, we will make progress. I am going to do everything I can do to help the team achieve its long-term objectives.”

Said Milton “Todd” Ault, the chairman of sponsor BitNile.com: “It is great for BitNile.com to be aligned with an Indy 500 Winner and an NTT IndyCar Series champion. I have followed Ryan’s career for years and I am confident he will challenge the entire ECR team to perform at higher levels. I wish everyone luck at Road America.”