Regan Smith was holding on to the pole with two cars remaining in Saturday’s qualifying session at Phoenix International Raceway. But then Mark Martin and Tony Stewart both ran quicker laps, dropping Smith to a third-place starting spot for Sunday’s Subway Fresh Fit 500 Sprint Cup race.
The third-place qualifying effort was a career best for Smith at Phoenix’s 1-mile oval and it was also his best qualifying effort since claiming the second spot in last year’s spring race at Richmond International Raceway.
Smith’s No. 78 Furniture Row/Farm American Chevrolet recorded a lap time and speed of 26.471 seconds at 135.998 miles per hour.
Martin’s pole-winning numbers were 26.313 at 136.815, and Stewart’s second place numbers were 26.446 at 136.126.
“This track is tough right now," said Smith. "It is really slick and a lot different than yesterday. It is probably the first lap all weekend that I actually hit my marks in our Furniture Row/Farm American Chevrolet. We have been struggling a little up until this point. But the Furniture Row guys have been sticking with me and we are working hard on it. I think we have some good ideas for the race package tomorrow.
“After our run we stood on pit road nervously watching the other cars. We knew Mark (Martin) was going to be tough here and Tony (Stewart) was the fastest in practice yesterday. Though it’s disappointing coming that close to our first pole, we’re really excited about our starting spot and pit stall selection for the race.”
Earning starting positions 4-10 in order were: Jimmie Johnson, Juan Pablo Montoya, Ryan Newman, Greg Biffle, Kevin Harvick, Joey Logano and Kasey Kahne.