AVONDALE, Ariz. — Matt Kenseth had no idea his pole-winning run at Phoenix International Raceway could help his championship-contending teammate.
When he found out he had assisted Carl Edwards, Kenseth pretended it was all part of the plan.
“That was my plan. I thought, ‘Man, if we can sit on the pole, that will really help him,’ ” Kenseth said with a laugh.
Kenseth turned a lap at 137.101 mph on Saturday to win his third pole of the season. It came in a late run, and separated NASCAR Sprint Cup title contenders Edwards and Tony Stewart on the grid. Before Kenseth’s lap, the two were seventh and eighth on the qualifying list and in line to start side by side in today’s race. But Edwards would have been on the outside, and new pavement at Phoenix has prevented the second line from adequately developing.
So when Kenseth wedged his way to the top of the board, Stewart dropped to eighth and Edwards to ninth. It means Stewart will start on the outside of the fourth row, and Edwards will line up on the inside of row five.
“I planned that. I am that good,” Kenseth said.
But he actually downplayed the significance of the starting spots of the two championship contenders. Edwards takes a three-point lead over Stewart into the penultimate event of the 10-race Chase for the Sprint Cup championship.
“The bottom is probably going to be an advantage to get started, but it is still 300 miles, and I think at some point in the race every car is going to be in the top groove for a little bit,” Kenseth said.
AJ Allmendinger and Marcos Ambrose qualified second and third as Ford swept the top three spots. Mark Martin qualified fourth and Martin Truex Jr. was fifth, followed by Jamie McMurray and David Reutimann.
But the qualifying session was marked by drivers using strong adjectives in reference to the racing surface, was paved over the summer.
Ambrose said the slick track was “pretty sketchy” and Allmendinger said his lap “was insane.” Jeff Gordon, who won at Phoenix in February, called the surface “treacherous” after qualifying 23rd.
It could be setting it up for a big day for the two-time NASCAR champion, who already believes he has the advantage over Edwards this weekend because the race could come down to which drivers adapt faster to the new surface.
Edwards said after four hours of practice Friday that this race had been a concern.
“I have been a little nervous about coming here not knowing what the track is going to be like and how we are going to stack up,” Edwards said. “But practice went really well and we are really fast. I am excited about it.”
NATIONWIDE SERIES: Sam Hornish Jr. raced to his first NASCAR victory and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. took a big step toward the Nationwide series season title when Elliott Sadler was taken out late at Phoenix International Raceway on Saturday.
Hornish, a former IndyCar star, passed Stenhouse on a restart midway through the 200-mile race and stayed up front on several restarts to claim his first win in 141 career starts between the Sprint Cup and Nationwide series.
Stenhouse finished fifth after Sadler, the only driver with a chance to catch him, was knocked out with 25 laps left on a bump from behind by Jason Leffler. Sadler’s crash gives Stenhouse a nearly insurmountable 41-point lead heading into the season finale at Homestead next weekend.
Brad Keselowski was second and Carl Edwards third.
Hornish was one of the most accomplished American open-wheel drivers in history, winning three IndyCar Series championships and the 2006 Indianapolis 500.