Chase Elliott surprises himself winning Martinsville pole

MARTINSVILLE, VIRGINIA - APRIL 08: Chase Elliott, driver of the #9 LLumar Chevrolet, drives during practice for the NASCAR Cup Series Blue-Emu Maximum Pain Relief 400 at Martinsville Speedway on April 08, 2022 in Martinsville, Virginia. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

Chase Elliott was the only NASCAR Cup Series driver to break 17.7 seconds in Friday’s knockout qualifying session, earning the pole position for Saturday night’s Blue-Emu Maximum Pain Relief 400 at Martinsville Speedway.

Driving the No. 9 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet, Elliott toured the .526-mile short track in 17.694 seconds (96.151 mph) in the second round of time trials to edge Aric Almirola for the top starting spot in the eighth event of the 2022 season. Almirola covered the distance in 17.799 seconds (95.641 mph).

“It honestly surprised me that it was that fast,” said Elliott, who won the 10th pole of his career, his first at Martinsville and his first since the fourth race of 2020 at Phoenix. “I didn’t expect it to be in the 60s. I thought I had a good lap but not a great lap… Nice to grab a pole—it’s been a while.

“It’s always good to have a good starting spot. Obviously, Lap 400 (on Saturday) is what pays. The bigger thing, I think, than the starting spot itself is the pit selection. Having that first pit stall is a really big deal and can lend you a lot of opportunity to gain spots on pit road. Hopefully, we can get this thing dialed in to be driving like we want the second half of the race and be around and have a shot at it.”

Almirola’s Stewart-Haas Racing teammate, Cole Custer, qualified third, followed by Chris Buescher and William Byron. Kevin Harvick was sixth fastest, giving SHR three of the top six positions on the grid.

Christopher Bell, Kyle Larson, Brad Keselowski and Todd Gilliland will start seventh through 10th, respectively. Larson was the only driver to run one lap versus two in the first round, a strategy that had worked for pole winner Ryan Blaney last weekend at Richmond.

But Larson locked up his tires in Turn 3 to ruin his money lap and had to settle for eighth fastest.

Kyle Busch was second fastest in practice but missed the top 10 by .001 seconds and will start 11th on Saturday in the first night race at Martinsville. Denny Hamlin, a five-time winner at the track, will start 25th after a disappointing run in the first round.


Photos: NASCAR at Martinsville Speedway Friday, April 8, 2022