Cham­pi­onship driv­ers stum­ble in qual­i­fy­ing

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - SPORTS - By Dan Gelston

HOMESTEAD, FLA. >> Joey Logano leaned in to­ward Jim­mie John­son and of­fered a few words of com­fort.

“At least we all sucked,” Logano said.

The four NASCAR Sprint Cup cham­pi­onship driv­ers all failed to get that one fi­nal boost they needed to bet­ter po­si­tion them­selves to win it all Sun­day at Homestead-Mi­ami Speed­way.

Logano, Carl Ed­wards, 2015 Sprint Cup cham­pion Kyle Busch and John­son all will start out­side the top five. Busch will start ninth, Ed­wards 10th, Logano 13th and John­son 14th. John­son would match Dale Earn­hardt Sr. and Richard Petty for the NASCAR record with his sev­enth ca­reer Cup cham­pi­onship.

“I don’t think any of us want to start that far back,” Ed­wards said.

But they are bunched close enough that one TV cam­era can prob­a­bly catch them all as they head into the first turn on the 1.5mile track. Busch started third in the fi­nale last sea­son, won the race and his first ca­reer Cup ti­tle.

The four­some likely won’t lag be­hind the front of the field for long.

“This is a place you can pass,” Logano said.

The high­est-fin­ish­ing driver among the four is the 2016 cham­pion. Un­der the re­vamped Chase for­mat, the Homestead win­ner the last two years won the cham­pi­onship.

Kevin Har­vick and Brad Ke­selowski, elim­i­nated from ti­tle con­tention in ear­lier rounds of NASCAR’s play­offs, played spoiler and swept the front row.

“I think we’ve been the two best cars all year,” Ke­selowski said.

Ryan New­man, Denny Ham­lin, Chase El­liott, Martin Truex Jr., Matt Kenseth and Ryan Blaney all will start ahead of the cham­pi­onship driv­ers.

The driv­ers out of the cham­pi­onship pic­ture tra­di­tion­ally part to let the con­tenders race each other hard in the meat of the race.

“You get a lit­tle more re­spect from those guys,” Busch said.

Amid a heap of trib­utes, Tony Ste­wart starts 11th in the fi­nal race of his NASCAR ca­reer. Ste­wart is try­ing to race to his 50th ca­reer Cup vic­tory and end a tri­umphant ca­reer in vic­tory lane.

“There hasn’t been any part of my ca­reer that I didn’t en­joy,” Ste­wart said. “There are things about ev­ery­thing that I’ve done that I’ve liked more than oth­ers and dis­liked more than oth­ers. But as a whole, I’ve en­joyed ev­ery­thing I’ve done and the road that I’ve taken to get here.”

Ed­wards and Busch are each vy­ing to win a sec­ond straight cham­pi­onship for Joe Gibbs Rac­ing. John­son could bring a 12th ti­tle to Hen­drick Mo­tor­sports. Logano wants to re­ward Roger Penske’s 50th sea­son in rac­ing with an­other cham­pi­onship.

Asked what keeps him go­ing af­ter all these years, Penske quipped, “Try­ing to beat these guys.”

Har­vick, the 2014 Homestead win­ner and Cup cham­pion, won his sec­ond pole of the sea­son. The Ste­wart-Haas Rac­ing driver could also de­liver a vic­tory cel­e­bra­tion for Ste­wart.

John­son was antsy to chase his­tory.

“Qual­i­fy­ing isn’t my strong suit, I’m much bet­ter at rac­ing,” he said. “So let’s line them up and go rac­ing.”

TERRY RENNA — THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Kevin Har­vick drives dur­ing qual­i­fy­ing Hom­stead Speed­way on Fri­day.

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