Denny Hamlin will start on the pole for the Quicken Loans Race for Heroes 500 -- the elimination race in the Eliminator Round of the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship -- after topping the charts in Friday's qualifying at Phoenix International Raceway.
Hamlin, who is one of the eight drivers remaining in the Chase, posted a lap at 142.113 mph for his third pole of the season and the 20th of his Sprint Cup Series career. It's also his second pole in 19 races at Phoenix. He has one victory in the series at this flat 1-mile track (March 2012).
"I hit my marks perfectly, and the adjustments just kept getting better and better," said Hamlin, the driver of the No. 11 Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing. "(Crew chief) Darian (Grubb) and the whole FedEx (sponsor) team kept making my Camry better. That allowed me to drive harder and harder. That's a big surprise."
Phoenix will decide which four drivers will battle for the Sprint Cup championship in the Nov. 16 season-ending race at Homestead.
None of the title contenders won at either Martinsville (Oct. 26) or Texas (last Sunday). That means at least three of the four positions for Homestead will be determined by points. If none of them wins at Phoenix, then all four will be decided by points.
Just 18 points separate the eight drivers heading into Sunday's 312-mile race at Phoenix. Joey Logano and Hamlin share the points lead.
"A day like (Friday) just gives you a huge momentum boost going into not only Sunday, but tomorrow (Saturday's final practice)," Hamlin said. "We know what my pit crew can do, and now we give them the number-one pit stall - a lot of big bonuses there that gets included with getting this pole. Not only that, but it also shows us that our car has got some speed."
Brad Keselowski, currently seventh in Chase points (-17), will start alongside Hamlin on the front row after making a lap at 142.079 mph. When the series raced here in March, Keselowski started on the pole and finished third.
"We just missed it I guess by a couple thousandths of a second," Keselowski said. "We were close but was just a little bit off. Either way, it's a good start. We like that, and we've got to make the most of it come Sunday."
Kevin Harvick, a record five-time race winner at Phoenix, qualified third at 141.995 mph. Harvick recorded the fastest lap in practice here earlier in the day. He has won the last two races at this track.
"I just missed it by a little bit, but our Budweiser Chevrolet is really good in race trim," Harvick said. "We have to keep tweaking on it tomorrow (in practice)."
Harvick is eighth in points (-18).
Logano will start fourth. In the first of the two qualifying rounds here, Logano set a new track record with a lap at 142.141 mph. The previous record at Phoenix was 139.384 mph, set by his Team Penske teammate, Keselowski, earlier this year.
"It's a decent place to start," Logano said. "We know what we have to do, but this is the second time we came here and set a track record but didn't start first. We're good at that this year. We're good at going fast in the first round and then it's something we're missing in the second round. We don't carry the speed over as well as others do, so we'll figure it out."
Finishing eighth through 12th in the final round of qualifying were: rookie Kyle Larson, Brian Vickers, Kurt Busch, Paul Menard and Casey Mears.
Newman is just two points behind Logano and Hamlin, while Edwards trails the leaders by 13.
Clay Rogers was the only driver who failed to qualify for the race.