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Ryan Blaney will lead the field to the starting line Sunday in the 2017 Can-Am 500 after posting the top speed in the final round of qualifying Friday at Phoenix International Raceway in Avondale, Arizona.
Denny Hamlin also earned a spot on the front row for the penultimate race of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season by finishing second. Kyle Larson and Chase Elliott will break from Row 2 as the Cup Championship Playoffs’ Round of 8 reaches its conclusion.
Blaney’s second pole of the campaign comes as he attempts to grab a place in the Championship 4.
Here’s a look at the top 10 starters for Sunday’s race (via NASCAR.com):
1. Ryan Blaney (21)
2. Denny Hamlin (11)
3. Kyle Larson (42)
4. Chase Elliott (24)
5. Martin Truex Jr. (78)
6. Kevin Harvick (4)
7. Matt Kenseth (20)
8. Kyle Busch (18)
9. Joey Logano (22)
10. Daniel Suarez (19)
NBC Sports provided reaction from Blaney after he won the pole:
NBC Sports @NBCSports
Ryan @Blaney wants to get the iconic @woodbrothers21 team to @HomesteadMiami. He could do that with a win at @PhoenixRaceway. He’ll start first Sunday at 2:30 PM ET on NBC! #Blaney https://t.co/YBvpkAmE3A
Only one berth in the Championship 4 remains up for grabs. Kyle Busch clinched his opportunity to race for the title at Martinsville Speedway at the end of October, Kevin Harvick did the same with his triumph Sunday at Texas Motor Speedway and Martin Truex Jr. is guaranteed a spot based on points.
Nick Bromberg of Yahoo Sports passed along comments Harvick made following his victory in the AAA Texas 500 about his lack of surprise in terms of which drivers are left standing.
“I think as you look at the season, your ultimate goal is to wind up at Homestead with an opportunity to win the championship,” he said. “I think if you look at the way the year has gone, you would expect to race [Truex] and [Busch] for the championship. I think everything from there was kind of a little bit of an unknown.”
Meanwhile, the fact Dale Earnhardt Jr. has just two races left in his career is the key storyline outside of the title chase.
The 43-year-old fan favorite hasn’t enjoyed much on-track success during his goodbye tour. He’s failed to record a win and didn’t make the playoffs. But he’s been more competitive lately, finishing 12th or better in five of his past six starts.
Earnhardt revealed the realization his racing career is 900 miles from completion is starting to take an emotional toll, per Mike Hembree for USA Today.
“I feel like I almost need to apologize because I’ve got a pregnant wife, I’m retiring and I just feel like I’m going to break down any minute,” he said. “I feel like every answer that I have has some sort of sad undertones and very emotional temperament.”
Looking ahead, ample drama should be on tap at Phoenix this weekend. Blaney, Hamlin, Elliott, Brad Keselowski and seven-time Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson are fighting for a single spot available to race for a championship Nov. 19.
Between those drivers doing everything possible to secure the final berth and the rest of the field looking to play the role of spoiler, especially Junior as he seeks one more win to cap his career, the upside of the NASCAR playoff system should be on full display Sunday.