Christopher Bell rights his ship with pole-winning effort at Michigan

BROOKLYN, MICHIGAN - AUGUST 05: Christopher Bell, driver of the #20 Rheem Toyota, poses for photos after winning the pole award during qualifying for the NASCAR Cup Series FireKeepers Casino 400 at Michigan International Speedway on August 05, 2023 in Brooklyn, Michigan. (Photo by Meg Oliphant/Getty Images)

Saving his best performance for the last round of qualifying, Christopher Bell sped to the pole position for Sunday’s FireKeepers Casino 400 NASCAR Cup Series race at Michigan International Speedway (2:30 p.m. ET on USA, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).

Bell covered the 2.0-mile distance in 37.232 seconds in Saturday’s money round, translating to a top speed of 193.82 mph—the fastest qualifying lap at any track since the 2020 Daytona 500.

Bell’s No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota was .027 seconds faster than the Trackhouse Racing Chevrolet of Ross Chastain (193.242 mph). Ty Gibbs, who ran the fastest lap of the day in the first round (37.225 seconds at 193.418 mph) will start third after a final-round lap at 193.024 mph.

The pole-winning performance was a welcome turnaround for Bell, who has finished 18th or worse in four of his last five races.

“This is obviously a very important manufacturers race track, but more than that, it’s a big boost for this 20 team,” said Bell, who earned his second Busch Light Pole Award of the season, his first at Michigan and the sixth of his career.

“We’ve been on the struggle bus a bit lately, and a lot of that’s my doing.”

Chris Buescher, last Sunday’s winner at Richmond raceway, qualified fourth, followed by Martin Truex Jr., putting three Joe Gibbs Racing drivers in the top five, as the Toyota drivers positioned themselves to try to break Ford’s eight-race winning streak in the Irish Hills.

The top five qualifiers all came from Group B of the split field. Joey Logano, who led Group A in the first round, backed that up with a sixth-place qualifying effort in the final round. William Byron will start seventh, followed by Kyle Busch, Ryan Blaney and Chase Elliott.

Currently 40 points out of the final Playoff position on points, Elliott still believes he’ll have to win one of the next four races to qualify for the postseason.

“My stance has been the same since I got back,” said Elliott, who missed six races because of injury and one under suspension for wrecking Denny Hamlin at Charlotte. “I think we need to win.

“So, and like I have said a thousand times since I have been back, I think gaining a lot of points and contending for wins is very much one in the same. It’s not coincidence that the guys that are high up in points have race wins.”

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