AJ Allmendinger claimed his first NASCAR pole position in qualifying for Saturday night's Sprint Cup race at Phoenix International Raceway.
In a session that was dominated by former open-wheel racers, the Champ Car race winner made the most of the improving track conditions to set a lap time of 26.731sec, at an average speed of 134.675mph, behind the wheel of his No. 43 Richard Petty Motorsport Ford.
"I know it might be minor, but it's a small victory for us," said the 28-year-old. "We've really struggled in qualifying so to get our first pole gets that monkey off our back. More importantly, we get to see the green flag drop, lead it to the green and go to the front."
Allmendinger bumped fellow Californian Scott Speed from pole position by less than a tenth of a second after the Red Bull Toyota driver became the first to break into the 26-second bracket. Three-time IndyCar Series champion Sam Hornish Jr. was third fastest in his best qualifying showing of the season – and also the Penske driver's best ever at Phoenix.
Marcos Ambrose was fourth fastest for JTG Daugherty, followed by Hendrick Motorsports' Dale Earnhardt Jr., while Juan Pablo Montoya followed in seventh after holding on to provisional pole before Speed became the first to bump him as the track cooled down.
Jeff Gordon, who had been fastest in the final practice was 10th in the end, while his Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jimmie Johnson, a four-time winner at Phoenix, struggled with balance while power-sliding his car on corner exits to place 16th on the grid.
Denny Hamlin showed good signs of recovery from his knee surgery nine days ago, setting the pace in the opening practice of the day, although he alternated behind the wheel of his Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota with Casey Mears, who remains on standby as his relief driver for tomorrow's race. Hamlin's car will start from 26th on the grid. David Stremme, Aric Almirola, Mike Bliss and Brandon Ash failed to qualify.
Pos Driver Car Time Gap
1. AJ Allmendinger Ford 26.731s
2. Scott Speed Toyota 26.791s +0.060
3. Sam Hornish Jr Dodge 26.826s +0.095
4. Marcos Ambrose Toyota 26.903s +0.172
5. Dale Earnhardt Jr Chevrolet 26.938s +0.207
6. Joey Logano Toyota 26.981s +0.250
7. Juan Pablo Montoya Chevrolet 26.999s +0.268
8. Martin Truex Jr Toyota 27.008s +0.277
9. Carl Edwards Ford 27.016s +0.285
10. Jeff Gordon Chevrolet 27.017s +0.286
11. Tony Stewart Chevrolet 27.024s +0.293
12. Michael McDowell Toyota 27.040s +0.309
13. Jamie McMurray Chevrolet 27.042s +0.311
14. Ryan Newman Chevrolet 27.065s +0.334
15. Jeff Burton Chevrolet 27.073s +0.342
16. Jimmie Johnson Chevrolet 27.087s +0.356
17. Kyle Busch Toyota 27.090s +0.359
18. Joe Nemechek Toyota 27.094s +0.363
19. Kurt Busch Dodge 27.105s +0.374
20. Kasey Kahne Ford 27.110s +0.379
21. Brian Vickers Toyota 27.111s +0.380
22. Brad Keselowski Dodge 27.119s +0.388
23. Mark Martin Chevrolet 27.122s +0.391
24. Kevin Harvick Chevrolet 27.125s +0.394
25. Clint Bowyer Chevrolet 27.148s +0.417
26. Denny Hamlin Toyota 27.155s +0.424
27. Matt Kenseth Ford 27.169s +0.438
28. Regan Smith Chevrolet 27.182s +0.451
29. David Ragan Ford 27.206s +0.475
30. Greg Biffle Ford 27.211s +0.480
31. Dave Blaney Toyota 27.227s +0.496
32. Paul Menard Ford 27.239s +0.508
33. Robby Gordon Toyota 27.261s +0.530
34. Max Papis Toyota 27.276s +0.545
35. Scott Riggs Chevrolet 27.300s +0.569
36. David Gilliland Ford 27.308s +0.577
37. Johnny Sauter Chevrolet 27.357s +0.626
38. Terry Cook Dodge 27.362s +0.631
39. David Stremme Ford 27.392s +0.661
40. Elliott Sadler Ford 27.410s +0.679
41. Aric Almirola Chevrolet 27.470s +0.739
42. David Reutimann Toyota 27.540s +0.809
43. Mike Bliss Chevrolet 27.549s +0.818
44. Bobby Labonte Chevrolet 27.669s +0.938
45. Travis Kvapil Ford 27.712s +0.981
46. Brandon Ash Dodge 27.948s +1.217
47. Kevin Conway Ford 28.226s +1.495