Joe Gibbs Racing driver Christopher Bell got back in his pole-qualifying good mojo mode Saturday morning at Las Vegas Motor Speedway – claiming the pole position for Sunday’s NASCAR Cup Series South Point 400 – his series-best sixth of the year and fourth in just the last eight races.
His No. 20 JGR Toyota turned a lap of 186.335 mph around the 1.5-mile Las Vegas high banks securing the sixth pole for Toyota in the season’s seven NASCAR Cup Series Playoff races to date.
Bell will start alongside fellow Playoff driver Kyle Larson, whose No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet was just a slight .010-second off the top speed.
“Qualifying has been really fun really since the introduction of the Next Gen car – especially on the intermediate stuff – because it’s just right on the verge of holding your foot down and going wide open,’’ Bell said. “It’s right on the edge and it’s what I look for.’’
Bell’s posted three Top-10 finishes in seven Las Vegas starts, with a best showing of fifth place just this March. A member of the Championship 4 in 2022, he knows a win at Vegas on Sunday would give him an automatic second chance at the sport’s top prize.
“I know we may not be the championship favorite,’’ Bell added. “But I know we have everything we need to do it.’’
“We’re in a good place.”
Six of the current eight Playoff drivers advanced to final round qualifying on a coolish Saturday morning at the track. Current NASCAR Cup Series championship leader William Byron – who won at Las Vegas this March – will start his No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevy third, alongside regular season champion Martin Truex Jr. in the No. 19 JGR Toyota. Byron holds a five-point edge on Truex atop the standings after a re-set for this three-race round.
Roush Fenway Keselowski Racing’s Chris Buescher – also a Playoff driver – was fifth fastest in the No. 17 RFK Ford, followed by Richard Childress Racing’s Kyle Busch, 23XI Racing teammates Bubba Wallace and Tyler Reddick – the latter also Playoff-eligible.
Defending race winner and reigning series champion Joey Logano will start ninth and Trackhouse Racing’s Ross Chastain rounded out the Top-10 drivers who advanced to final round qualifying.
Team Penske’s Ryan Blaney and JGR’s Denny Hamlin were the only Playoff drivers who did not advance to that second round of time trials. Blaney will start 12th and Hamlin will start 15th on the 36-car grid.
JGR’s Ty Gibbs was the fastest qualifying rookie in 11th place.
Chastain and Buescher were fastest in NASCAR Cup Series hour-long practice prior to qualifying. The session included a couple incidents that will send a pair of high-profile drivers to the rear of the starting grid for Sunday.
Both Hendrick Motorsports’ Chase Elliott and Trackhouse Racing’s Daniel Suarez had tires go down and crashed. Before the incident Elliott had turned in a lap fourth quickest of the session and Suarez 26th fastest. The contact was enough, however, to force both drivers to back-up cars for Sunday’s race. Neither participated in qualifying and will start from the rear of the field.
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