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Thursday December 2nd, 2021 7:51PM

Larson tops teammate Elliott for NASCAR championship pole

By Dan Gelston - AP Sports Writer
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AVONDALE, Ariz. (AP) — Kyle Larson was the driver to beat all season in his comeback with Hendrick Motorsports. With only the NASCAR Cup Series championship race left, the three other contenders will chase Larson one more time.

Larson nipped defending champion Chase Elliott for the pole Saturday at Phoenix Raceway to make it a 1-2 front row for Hendrick Motorsports in the finale.

Hendrick and Chevrolet start with an early edge Sunday against Joe Gibbs Racing contenders Martin Truex, Jr. and Denny Hamlin. Hamlin starts sixth in the No. 11 Toyota and Truex is 12th in the No. 19.

“Today we’re behind,” Truex said. “I don’t know that that guarantees tomorrow we’ll be behind.”

Hamlin sat stone-faced as he discussed JGR's qualifying struggles and deadpanned he was going to “rage” Saturday night to get ready for yet another championship race.

A three-time Daytona 500 winner and first-year Cup team owner, Hamlin fell short in four previous title tries.

“I’ve locked myself in a hotel room before, nights before the finals,” Hamlin said. “That doesn’t work.”

Larson went out 37th in the qualifying order and his lap of 137.847 mph was enough to knock Elliott off the top spot. Elliott was second in the No. 9 Chevy.

The 29-year-old Larson missed last season's race as he served out the end of a nearly season-long suspension for using a racial slur. The time off didn't slow down Larson. He raced all over the country in sprint cars this season and dominated in his first season driving for team owner Rick Hendrick.

“I really don’t want to think about losing and trying to be happy,” Larson said.

Larson, Hamlin and Truex all had team members ejected for Sunday's race for twice failing inspection. Larson had his pick of pit stalls and his team chose the first one.

The drivers conceded the starting spot might not matter much at Phoenix. Elliott’s car failed pre-race inspection before last season's championship race and the penalty cost him the pole when he was sent to the rear. But he raced his way through traffic in the first stage and then took control of the championship.

Larson, with a series-high nine wins, will gladly take the top spot.

“It definitely doesn't hurt for sure,” he said. “I don’t know if it’s a championship-winning moment.”

Elliott is the reigning champion, NASCAR’s most popular driver and defending race winner, while 2017 champion Truex won at Phoenix this spring. They join three-time Daytona 500 winner and four-time championship loser Hamlin in chasing Larson.

Elliott said he didn't think his speed was good enough to even take second, much less hold on for the pole.

“The longer you go out there, it isn't a bad thing,” he said.

Larson actually has 10 wins, the non-points $1 million All-Star race isn’t counted in his total, and his 2,474 laps led this season broke Jeff Gordon’s 20-year record.

“We still have the major thing that we really want to accomplish tomorrow," Larson said.

WDUN will carry live MRN Radio coverage of Sunday's NASCAR Cup Series season finale from Phoenix Raceway beginning at 2 pm on 102.9 FM and streaming live on AccessWDUN.

NASCAR Cup Series
Phoenix Raceway - Avondale, AZ
NASCAR Cup Series Championship Race - November 6, 2021

Saturday's Qualifying Results

Pos    Car    Driver    Team    Time    Speed
1.    5    Kyle Larson (P)    HendrickCars.com Chevrolet    26.116    137.847
2.    9    Chase Elliott (P)    NAPA Auto Parts Chevrolet    26.289    136.939
3.    24    William Byron    Raptor Chevrolet    26.307    136.846
4.    12    Ryan Blaney    Menards/Jack Links Ford    26.315    136.804
5.    1    Kurt Busch    Monster Energy Chevrolet    26.327    136.742
6.    11    Denny Hamlin (P)    FedEx Express Toyota    26.361    136.565
7.    41    Cole Custer    HaasTooling.com Ford    26.432    136.199
8.    20    Christopher Bell    DEWALT Toyota    26.433    136.193
9.    4    Kevin Harvick    Busch Light #BuschPitBoss Ford    26.434    136.188
10.    22    Joey Logano    Shell Pennzoil Ford    26.436    136.178
11.    2    Brad Keselowski    Discount Tire Ford    26.469    136.008
12.    19    Martin Truex, Jr. (P)    Bass Pro Shops Toyota    26.494    135.880
13.    18    Kyle Busch    M&M's Toyota    26.502    135.839
14.    48    Alex Bowman    Ally Chevrolet    26.544    135.624
15.    21    Matt DiBenedetto    Motorcraft/Quick Lane Ford    26.544    135.624
16.    42    Ross Chastain    Clover Chevrolet    26.544    135.624
17.    99    Daniel Suarez    Good Sam Chevrolet    26.558    135.552
18.    10    Aric Almirola    Smithfield Ford    26.568    135.501
19.    6    Ryan Newman    Castrol GTX Full Synthetic Ford    26.576    135.461
20.    8    Tyler Reddick    BetMGM Chevrolet    26.592    135.379
21.    47    Ricky Stenhouse, Jr.    Honey Nut Cheerios Chevrolet    26.594    135.369
22.    14    Chase Briscoe #    HighPoint.com Ford    26.623    135.221
23.    3    Austin Dillon    Dow Coatings Chevrolet    26.649    135.089
24.    7    Corey LaJoie    Schluter Systems Chevrolet    26.652    135.074
25.    23    Bubba Wallace    Door Dash Toyota    26.665    135.008
26.    17    Chris Buescher    Fastenal Ford    26.683    134.917
27.    43    Erik Jones    Rellevate Chevrolet    26.722    134.720
28.    34    Michael McDowell    Love's Travel Stops Ford    26.811    134.273
29.    77    Justin Haley(i)    Peacock - Streaming Now Chevrolet    26.812    134.268
30.    38    Anthony Alfredo #    Boot Barn Ford    26.906    133.799
31.    37    Ryan Preece    Kroger Chevrolet    26.921    133.725
32.    78    B.J. McLeod(i)    Pala Casino Ford    27.181    132.445
33.    51    Cody Ware(i)    Nurtec ODT Chevrolet    27.560    130.624
34.    53    Joey Gase(i)    DonateLife Chevrolet    27.716    129.889
35.    00    Quin Houff    CREEK Enterprises Inc. Chevrolet    27.861    129.213
36.    13    David Starr(i)    Bob Menery Ripper Magoo Toyota    27.874    129.153
37.    52    Josh Bilicki(i)    Boom Ford    27.887    129.092
38.    15    Garrett Smithley(i)    Carpets of Arizona Chevrolet    28.243    127.465
39.    66    Timmy Hill(i)    Coble Enterprises/Darn Transport Toyota    0.000    0.000

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