Larson takes pole for Martinsville elimination race

Kyle Larson backed up last Sunday’s victory at Homestead-Miami Speedway with a pole-winning run at Martinsville Speedway.

Though Larson has been eliminated from the NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs, he’ll lead the field to green in the race to decide which three drivers will join Joey Logano in the November 6 Championship 4 event at Phoenix Raceway—Sunday’s Xfinity 500 (2 p.m. ET on NBC, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).

After locking up on his first lap in the final round, Larson was less aggressive on the lap that gave Larson his fourth Busch Light Pole Award of the season, his first at Martinsville and the 14th of his career.

“I kind of backed it down the second lap,” said Larson, who navigated the tight paper-clip-shaped .526-mile short track in 19.709 seconds (96.078 mph). “I feel like a lot of times here slower is faster.

“I was just trying to be smooth with it. I’m surprised that I did anything good here at Martinsville. It’s a good start so far, and hopefully we can keep it going tomorrow.”

Playoff drivers Chase Elliott and Chase Briscoe tied for second fastest at 19.721 seconds (96.019 mph), with Elliott getting the front row nod because of higher standing in owner points. Elliott is 11 points above the current cutoff for the Championship 4 Round; Briscoe is 44 points below, needing a victory to advance to the title race.

Playoff driver Ryan Blaney qualified fourth at 95.927 mph. Non-Playoff drivers claimed five of the next six positions, with ninth-place qualifier Ross Chastain the only other title-eligible driver to advance to the final round.

Denny Hamlin, five points behind William Byron for the final Championship 4 spot, will start 11th on Sunday. After a disappointing qualifying effort, Byron will take the green from 25th, five positions behind Christopher Bell, another Playoff driver in a likely must-win situation.

Notes: Though Larson has been eliminated from the drivers’ championship, his No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet is still eligible for the owners’ title… Larson has started first at Martinsville on two previous occasions that don’t count as poles won. He was first in owner points in 2017 when time trials were rained out, and he started first in 2021 when grid positions were determined by metrics.