HOMESTEAD, Florida — Martin Truex Jr. will start Sunday’s Ford EcoBoost 400 in front of his top rivals.

Truex, from Stafford Township, earned a spot in the front row by qualifying second Friday at Homstead-Miami Speedway. The other members of the “Championship Four” — Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick and Brad Keselowski — qualified third, ninth and fifth, respectively.

Denny Hamlin, who is not in contention for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series championship, won the pole.

“I thought it was a good effort,” Truex said. “I definitely wish we could have been first (in qualifying), but it really doesn’t matter. We beat the other three cars today, but that doesn’t mean a whole lot. All that matters is how we finish on Sunday.”

Truex got off to a terrific start in qualifying. He turned in the fastest lap in the first and second rounds at 175.650 and 174.820 mph, respectively.

The 1998 Southern Regional High School graduate averaged 173.952 mph in the final round, turning the lap in 31.043 seconds. When Busch crossed the line four one-thousandths of a second slower (31.047) at 173.930 ,ph, Truex’s pit crew began cheering and exchanging high fives.

Then Hamlin beat them both.

“There’s a little bit of satisfaction over (getting the pole), but it’s a little disheartening because we’re not in the final four,” Hamlin said. “We ran great the last three or four races, but we don’t have our chance on Sunday.”

Truex, 37, is enjoying the best season of his NASCAR career, winning seven races.

He’s in the final four for the second time in three years after placing fourth in 2015 behind Busch, Harvick and Jeff Gordon.

Busch (2015), Harvick (2014) and Keselowski (2012) have won championships. Experts are expecting Truex and Busch to fight it out for the title Sunday.

“You run all season in hopes of getting to this point, and now we’re here,” Busch said. “Where you start on Sunday doesn’t matter. The name of the game is how you finish.”

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Contact: 609-272-7201 Twitter @PressACWeinberg

Member of The Press sports staff since 1986, starting my 25th season as The Press Eagles' beat writer. Also cover boxing, MMA, golf, high school sports and everything else.

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