Bowman wins pole at Phoenix as Chase drivers seek more speed

AVONDALE, Ariz. (AP) Alex Bowman still has no ride for next season. On a weekend the championship contenders are making a bid for the title race, Bowman made a case for a full-time job.

Bowman won his first career pole Friday with a strong run at Phoenix International Raceway. Bowman, the replacement driver for concussed Dale Earnhardt Jr., turned a lap at 140.521 mph to earn the top starting spot.

''I'm still waiting for the right opportunity to come along,'' Bowman said. ''There's nothing that has really fit that has come along. I'll still probably have my day job at Hendrick Motorsports driving the simulator. We'll go from there.''

Bowman, who is from Tucson, ran Earnhardt's car to the top of the leaderboard with NASCAR's most popular driver in attendance.

''This is his hometown, kind of, so it's awesome that all his friends are around to see him do this,'' Earnhardt said. ''This is great for his career, this is exactly what we were hoping to happen for him. Hopefully, he can put it together on Sunday.''

Kyle Larson and Chase Elliott qualified second and third as Chevrolets swept the top three. They also shut out the championship contenders from the top of the scoring pylon.

Only Jimmie Johnson and Carl Edwards have spots locked down for next week's season finale, and there are six drivers vying for the remaining two slots.

Of those trying to race their way into the final four, Joey Logano qualified fourth and was followed by Denny Hamlin and Kevin Harvick.

''We are in good position right now,'' said Logano. ''If that was the end of the race we would move on, I think. We just have to keep looking ahead and make sure we keep the big picture in mind.''

Hamlin, who is racing against three of his teammates for a spot at Homestead-Miami Speedway, was pleased with his fifth-place qualifying lap.

''Four cars stand in my way. Just four, it's not that big of a deal,'' Hamlin said.

Harvick is the favorite to win Sunday and has won six of his last eight races at Phoenix. When asked why he's so good at Phoenix, Harvick joked that he found a magic wand at Disney that he waves over PIR.

His mood was light considering he's in a must-win situation, and the law of averages predicts he can't beat 39 other drivers at Phoenix time and time again. But Harvick noted he didn't win last November's race and didn't appear to be the least bit concerned about odds. He also wasn't worried about any potential payback from Austin Dillon , the driver Harvick accidentally wrecked last week.

''Everybody is in the same position we are,'' he said. ''If somebody wins, there's only going to be one points guy that goes through. You need to pretend like you are in a must-win situation if you want to plan on going to Homestead.''

The only Chase drivers not to make it into the final round were Johnson and defending series champion Kyle Busch. Johnson already has a spot clinched in next week's finale, but Busch will start 19th on Sunday.

Martin Truex Jr. wrecked during practice and was forced into his backup car. But it couldn't pass inspection before qualifying began and Truex will start last Sunday.

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