NSCS: Home State Hero Bowman Scores First-Career Cup Pole At Phoenix

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Alex Bowman scored his first-career NASCAR Sprint Cup Series pole during qualifying on Friday at Phoenix Int'l Raceway. (NASCAR photo)

Alex Bowman scored his first-career NASCAR Sprint Cup Series pole during qualifying on Friday at Phoenix Int’l Raceway. (NASCAR photo)

AVONDALE, Ariz. – In a substitute role, the hometown favorite delivered a pinch-hit home run during NASCAR Sprint Cup Series qualifying on Friday evening at Phoenix Int’l Raceway.

Hailing from nearby Tucson, Arizona, 23-year-old Alex Bowman sprinted to his first-career Coors Light Pole Award after posting a lap of 25.619 seconds (140.521 mph) in the third and final round of knockout qualifying at the one-mile desert oval.

Bowman has been substituting for Hendrick Motorsports driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. behind the wheel of the No. 88 Nationwide Insurance Chevrolet, and Sunday will mark his ninth start this season in that role as Earnhardt continues to recover from a June concussion.

The pole comes ahead of Bowman’s 80th career Sprint Cup start in Sunday’s Can-Am 500 (2:30 p.m. ET, NBC, MRN, SiriusXM).

“I can’t believe it,” Bowman said. “I’m not quite sure how we pulled that one off, honestly. Our Hendrick horsepower and the guys at the shop combined for a fast piece today, and I’ve got to thank them for that.”

“I’ve had a lot of help from the guy next to me, Dale Junior … he’s been a lot of help to me. I’m thankful to be standing here and to score a pole so close to home in Phoenix. It means a lot to me.”

Earnhardt was standing alongside his young protégé following qualifying and lauded the effort Bowman put in, saying that the young star’s recent performances have elevated his whole team’s Friday program.

“I’m not very good at qualifying,” Earnhardt laughed. “He’s been in the car and has really helped our team get better on the qualifying front, as well as in race trim as well. Like I said, I’m not that good at this qualifying deal, so this is good for Greg (Ives) and good for the crew guys … and great for Alex. He’s been a great treat for the guys to work with and obviously he’s a great driver.”

“This is great for his career and it’s exactly what we were hoping to have happen for him. Hopefully he can put it all together on Sunday.”

Fellow young gun Kyle Larson will join Bowman on the front row for Sunday’s 312-mile affair, timing in second-quick with a fast lap of 25.666 seconds (140.263 mph) in the final round at the wheel of his No. 42 Target Chevrolet.

“It took a little bit for my retinas to get back good after staring at the sun that whole first round,” Larson admitted. “I over-slowed my entry into turn one and didn’t have a good run that first time out … had to make another run … but we got through that. We got better and better each time out, and I felt like the track kept having more and more grip each round as well.”

“I would have liked to have been on the pole, but it’s cool for Bowman to get one here in his home state. We’ll go to work on our race trim tomorrow (in practice) and see what we’ve got for them on Sunday.”

Chase Elliott’s third-place qualifying effort means the average age of the top three on the grid is 22.

Chase contenders Joey Logano, Denny Hamlin and Kevin Harvick completed the top six ahead of Austin Dillon, Ryan Blaney, Jamie McMurray, Matt Kenseth, Carl Edwards and Kurt Busch.

Kasey Kahne was the first man eliminated at the end of round two and will start 13th after posting a lap of 25.853 seconds (139.249 mph) in his No. 5 Farmers Insurance Chevrolet.

“Sunday’s a long ways away, but for qualifying we had a great car,” Kahne explained. “We did (round one) in one lap and the second time we were just a little snug and missed it by just a touch. The car feels great and if it feels that way on Sunday, we’ll be pretty strong.”

Two Chase contenders missed the cut in round two.

Jimmie Johnson, who is already locked into the Championship 4 by virtue of his win at Martinsville Speedway two weeks ago, timed in 17th and defending Sprint Cup champion Kyle Busch was 19th.

Three-time Sprint Cup champion Tony Stewart was the first driver eliminated from the opening knockout round and will start 25th in his final start in the desert on Sunday.

Michael McDowell (26th), Aric Almirola (27th) and Brian Scott (33rd), who announced his pending retirement on Thursday, were also among those knocked out in round one.

Martin Truex Jr.’s backup car did not clear inspection in time for him to take a qualifying lap, and as such he will start from 40th on Sunday.

Qualifying Results

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