Byron wins second straight pole

LONG POND, PENNSYLVANIA - JUNE 01: William Byron, driver of the #24 Hendrick Autoguard Chevrolet, poses with the Busch Pole Award after posting the quickest lap during qualifying for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Pocono 400 at Pocono Raceway on June 01, 2019 in Long Pond, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

William Byron continued to assert his mastery of pole qualifying in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Saturday at Pocono Raceway.

Charging around the 2.5-mile triangular track in 51.875 seconds (173.494 mph), Byron claimed the top starting spot for Sunday’s Pocono 400 (2 p.m. ET on FS1, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).

“Pole day’s been good for us,” said Byron, who collected his third Busch Pole Award of the season and the third of his career after winning his second last week at Charlotte. “Keep racking those up and, hopefully, rack up a better result on race day, too.”

The Daytona 500 pole winner beat Kyle Busch (172.629 mph) for the No. 1 starting spot by .260 seconds. Now Byron faces the more difficult task of converting a pole into a victory.

“It’s all about execution, I feel like,” Byron said. “It’s on me to know what I need throughout the race, and I feel like I’m starting to learn a little bit of what it takes for the last 100 laps, instead of the first 80, which we’ve been pretty good at.”

It’s not that Byron doesn’t have experience at the Tricky Triangle. The 21-year-old from Charlotte, N.C., has raced ARCA, Xfinity and NASCAR Gander Outdoors trucks at Pocono. In 2016, he won from the pole in a Kyle Busch Motorsports Truck.

“It’s somewhat similar to the package that we ran in the Truck Series,” Byron said of the competition package that debuted in the Cup series this year. “I went back and watched that (2016) race. They had a good truck for me at KBM, and we won that race.

“So hopefully we can lean on some of those notes that we had there and some of the things that I wanted in the car to translate that into the race this weekend. I do have some confidence going into this race track. I feel like it’s a place that feels like home for me.”

Clint Bowyer qualified third, followed by Erik Jones, Brad Keselowski and Denny Hamlin, as Joe Gibbs Racing put three of its drivers in the top six. For Busch, the front-row start will be the first of his season.

Hamlin, who won twice from the pole at Pocono in his 2006 rookie season, simply hopes he can get through a race with the major issues that have plagued him recently.

“Just really want a smooth race from our standpoint,” said Hamlin, the 2019 Daytona 500 winner, who posted six top-fives in his first nine races before a rash of troubles knocked him down to seventh in the series standings.

“We’ve had blown tires and all kinds of crazy stuff happen. We’ve had blown tires three or four weeks in a row so we’ve got to just… if we have a smooth race, we know we’re going to have a good race, so we just hope to have a smooth one here and get back on the train we were on.”

Behind Hamlin on the grid, Kyle Larson, seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson, Daniel Suarez and Austin Dillon will start seventh through 10th, respectively. Defending race winner Martin Truex Jr. will go for his second-straight Cup victory from the 20th spot on the gri

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