11/12 2016

“RR-AZ Alum…”Alex Bowman to start first at Phoenix BY: NICK BROMBERG

Alex Bowman will lead the field to green on Sunday. (Getty)

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Alex Bowman will lead the field to green on Sunday. (Getty)

With the focus on six Chase drivers battling for the final two spots in the final round of NASCAR’s Chase, a driver who is running a grand total of 10 Sprint Cup Series races in 2016 stole the qualifying show Friday at Phoenix International Raceway.

Arizona native Alex Bowman posted the fastest lap of the third round of qualifying and will start first. Bowman is subbing for Dale Earnhardt Jr. as Junior recovers from a concussion he suffered over the summer. Bowman has split time with Jeff Gordon in the No. 88 car and has two top-10 finishes in eight starts so far this season. He said earlier Friday that he didn’t have any ride for 2017 lined up. Maybe the pole and another good finish or two will help with getting a good shot somewhere.

Joey Logano was the highest-qualifying Chase driver in fourth. Six of the Chase’s eight remaining drivers made the final round of qualifying. Jimmie Johnson (17th) and Kyle Busch (19th) missed out, though Johnson knows he’s in the final round because of his win two weeks ago at Martinsville. Busch is tied with Logano atop the third-round points standings, but the two are just a point ahead of Matt Kenseth and two points ahead of Denny Hamlin.

Hamlin starts fifth and Kenseth will start 10th. Last week’s winner, Carl Edwards, starts 11th. He’s guaranteed a berth at Homestead for the final round because of that win.

Kevin Harvick is 18 points back of Logano and Busch and has won five of the last six races at Phoenix. He qualified sixth and it’s a pretty safe bet that he’ll lead some laps on Sunday.

Austin Dillon qualified right behind Harvick in seventh. Dillon was angry with Harvick after crashing out of Sunday’s race because of the way he felt Harvick raced him leading up to the crash. When asked if Harvick needed to watch out for retribution on Sunday, Dillon had this to say.

“I don’t really have no comment,” he said. “I’m here to race and win this race.”

Dillon drives for Richard Childress Racing, a team that got its last win three years ago at this race. The winner? Harvick.

Martin Truex Jr. didn’t get to make a lap and will start last. He hit the wall in practice earlier Friday and the team went to a backup car. The backup car didn’t clear inspection in time for him to make a qualifying lap.