AVONDALE, Ariz. — Though his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Christopher Bell appeared to be the heavy favorite for the pole Saturday at Phoenix Raceway, Erik Jones had the necessary speed when it counted in the final round.
After Bell led the first two rounds of Coors Light Pole Qualifying, Jones flew to the pole ahead of the penultimate race of the NASCAR XFINITY Series playoffs, setting the stage for a dramatic Ticket Galaxy 200.
Jones earned his second consecutive pole and second of the season with a lap of 26.880 seconds (133.929 mph) in the No. 20 Hisense Toyota, and hopes to replicate the dominant performance he had in winning from the pole a week ago at Texas Motor Speedway.
“This is big for us this weekend in trying to get another win in the XFINITY Series and trying to get two (wins) in a row,” said Jones of his 15th-career pole. “Our Hisense Camry is really good today. This is good too for whoever’s going to be in the car next weekend for the owner’s championship – getting pit stall (No.) 1 for them.”
“It’s a good day so far. I didn’t know if we were going to have enough or what it was going to take in the last round. We had to keep working on the car and get it closer and closer, but it’s nice to get on the pole and hopefully we have a good enough piece in the race to contend.”
Starting alongside Jones will be rookie and playoff contender William Byron, who posted a final round lap of 27.018 seconds (133.245 mph) in his No. 9 Liberty University Chevrolet.
Byron comes into the race with a 24-point lead over the cutoff line, looking to seal his chance to go to Homestead-Miami Speedway and race for his first NASCAR national series title after heartbreak at Phoenix in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series playoff fight a year ago.
Fellow playoff contenders Cole Custer and Matt Tifft followed in row two, qualifying third and fourth, respectively. Charlotte winner Alex Bowman completed the top five in his return to his home track.
Ryan Blaney, Daniel Hemric, Bell, Blake Koch, Justin Allgaier, Brendan Gaughan and Michael Annett filled out the first six rows on the grid and all transferred to the third and final knockout round.
Late runs by Gaughan and Annett moved them into the final round, bumping playoff contenders Elliott Sadler and Brennan Poole below the cut line at the end of the second session.
Sadler will roll off 13th in the No. 1 Cessna Chevrolet, while Poole starts 14th in the No. 48 DC Solar Chevrolet.
“We were really loose today compared to where we were yesterday,” said Sadler. “We’ll go back and look at some of the changes we made and see where we end up. Our car was pretty good on long runs yesterday, but just could never lay down a quick lap. We fought that again today … and also had radio issues, so I couldn’t tell if we were in or out, but we’ll get that all worked out. Not really hurting us too bad today, but it’s really going to hurt us for pit selection next week (at Homestead).”
“We’ve got a tough team though, so we’ll battle back through the race today and see where it gets us.”
Ryan Reed, who enters Phoenix in a virtual must-win situation, qualified worst of the eight playoff drivers and grids up 20th for Saturday afternoon’s race.
The Ticket Galaxy 200 kicks off at 3:30 p.m. ET, live on NBC, the Motor Racing Network and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio, channel 90.
Full qualifying results can be viewed on the next page…