Joe Gibbs Racing completely dominated Friday’s qualifying for Sunday’s Good Sam 500 at Phoenix International Raceway.
Three JGR drivers – led by pole winner Kyle Busch and – will start in the top three, with Carl Edwards on the outside front row and Denny Hamlin starting third behind Busch. A fourth JGR driver, Matt Kenseth, starts sixth. Even Martin Truex Jr., whose Furniture Row Racing No. 78 Toyota, gets technical help from JGR, was eighth.
Busch’s speed of 138.387 mph in the final round clearly beat Edwards’ 137.515.
“Where are we beating them?” Busch said. “I think it’s not just a combination of straightaway speed, entry speed, out-turning or out-motoring them, but everywhere.”
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The first round was red flagged for a few minutes after smoke came from air intake cowl under the hood of Kasey Kahne’s Chevy. Jimmie Johnson also hit the wall hard in the final round and will use a backup car Sunday. Johnson later said on Twitter that his steering wheel came off, leading to the wreck.
▪ Daniel Suarez, a Mexican driver who leads the Xfinity Series points standings, reacted Friday to NASCAR CEO Brian France’s recent endorsement of Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump by saying, “I’m not very big in politics” and “I’m super proud to be Mexican, to be a Latin American driver in the United States.”
Suarez, a product of NASCAR’s Driver For Diversity program, will be among the favorites in Saturday’s Axalta 200 at Phoenix International Raceway. Among Suarez’s financial backers is Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim Domit, whose family’s TV production company cut ties with Trump last year after the real estate mogul announced his signature plan to build a wall along the U.S. southern border.
“I’m very lucky to have a lot of support from the United States and from NASCAR in the past four years and what we’ve got for this year so far,” Suarez said. “Who knows, without being Mexican I wouldn’t be here right now because it’s been unbelievable the support I’ve had from NASCAR through the Drive for Diversity program and all of these programs to put myself in the right position to get opportunity that I have right now.”
▪ Marcus Lemonis, CEO of two major NASCAR sponsors, told ESPN Radio that he disagrees with France’s endorsing any political candidate.
“When you use a sport like NASCAR, you use a sport like the NFL or the NBA or anything like that where the fans are wildly loyal, and now you’ve essentially given the endorsement of a population that is made up of supporters of lots of different people, that’s a problem,” said Leonis, who is chairman of Truck series title sponsor Camping World and Good Sam, sponsor of Sunday’s Cup race.
▪ Austin Dillon said his testy exchange with crew chief Slugger Labbe last week at Las Vegas was nothing serious. Dillon expressed his anger over the radio after Labbe elected to change four tires instead of two during a mid-race pit stop
“We don’t want to hear another word about that Austin,” Labbe responded. “Team effort. Come on, keep your head in the game.”
“My head’s been in the game!” Dillon said.
“Keep it there,” said Labbe. “Thank you. Focus.”
Dillon said Friday it’s all part of a healthy driver-crew chief relationship.
“When it comes to communication with Slugger, we are like two brothers,” Dillon said. “We are both very aggressive personalities. He is not afraid to tell me when he thinks I’ve messed up and I’m not afraid to tell him when I think he has messed up. It’s a part of being intense. Slugger is really good at being blunt with things and I’ve learned to be able to take it and he can take it too. That is what I love about him. I can tell him right to his face, ‘Hey this is no good.’ He will go to work on it. Same with me; if he thinks I’m not driving right I will go to work, too.”
▪ Kyle Petty’s 22nd annual Charity Ride Across America begins April 30 in Palm Springs, Calif., and will end May 6 in Beaumont, Texas. Several celebrities will join in the ride, including Richard Petty, NASCAR Hall of Fame nominee Hershel McGriff and former racing stars Harry Gant and Donnie Allison.
Petty’s ride has raised $16.5 million for his Victory Junction camp and other children’s charities since 1995.
The Associated Press contributed