Joe Gibbs Racing driver Christopher Bell won his first career NASCAR Cup Series pole position on Saturday and will lead the field in Sunday’s Pennzoil 400 presented by Jiffy Lube (3 p.m. ET, FOX, PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). The driver of the No. 20 JGR Toyota bested the 10 cars that advanced to second round qualifying at the 1.5-mile Las Vegas Motor Speedway with a lap of 182.673 mph.
Defending race winner Kyle Larson put his No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet on the outside of the front row after topping the speed chart in practice earlier Saturday morning. He was only .289-seconds off Bell’s pace – and the only other driver to top the 182-mph mark in the session.
That’s pretty cool,’’ said Bell, who is the second driver (also Austin Cindric at Auto Club Speedway) to score his first career pole position in 2022. “I feel really good about our DeWalt Camry. I knew our first run out (in practice) we were going to be pretty competitive.’’
Asked if the pole-win surprised him, Bell said, “Not really. All season our Camrys have had speed.’’
Now the talented 27-year old Oklahoman is hoping that speed translates into a better finish. He’s had tough luck in the season’s opening two races. He crashed out in the Daytona 500 and finished 24th and last weekend at California’s Auto Club Speedway, he had engine problems and finished 36th.
“You never know and nothing’s guaranteed,’’ Bell said. “But we’ve had a lot of speed and we’ve had promise and hopefully we start putting it together.
The Daytona 500 winner Cindric, Stewart-Haas Racing’s Chase Briscoe and Larson’s Hendrick Motorsports teammate Chase Elliott rounded out the Top Five in qualifying. Cindric’s Team Penkse teammate Joey Logano, Chevy driver Tyler Reddick, Bell’s teammate Denny Hamlin, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Richard Childress Racing’s Austin Dillon completed the Top 10 on Sunday’s grid.
Las Vegas native and 2009 race winner Kyle Busch brought out a yellow flag less than 10 minutes into Saturday’s 35-minute practice session. A tire went down and his No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota slammed hard into the wall. The car was carried to the garage on a wrecker with significant damage and the crew pulled out a back-up car for Busch to use in Sunday’s race.
The new car was completely silver with no paint scheme or number - in fact it had Denny Hamlin’s name on the rear window - and was not ready for a qualifying run. So Busch will start from the rear of the grid on Sunday. The team said the car had originally been sent to the West Coast Swing of races to provide various back-up parts.
LARSON AND ELLIOTT
Reigning NASCAR Cup Series champion Larson spoke with the media Saturday morning and reported that he had a positive meeting with Hendrick Motorsports teammate Chase Elliott – after an on-track incident between the two last weekend in California.
With 11 laps remaining in the race, Larson was in the middle of Turn 1 making a pass on Ford driver Joey Logano, driving a lane below. Larson said he didn’t see Elliott go a lane higher at the same time – making it three-wide. Larson veered toward Elliott’s No. 9 Chevrolet, which hit the wall and was damaged. Elliott continued, but eventually spun out and brought out the final caution with nine laps to go, forcing Larson to have to beat the field on the ensuing restart with three laps remaining.
“I got to talk to him and we kind of went over what happened from each of our vantage points,’’ Larson said after qualifying. “It went well, honestly better than I anticipated. He’s a great teammate.’’
Their private conversation came after a mid-week talk with longtime team owner Rick Hendrick, who has a history of settling differences among his talented driver lineups. A decade ago, he was mending fences with another pair of his champion drivers – Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson.
“Rick (Hendrick) called a meeting with all four teams and just kind of reiterated his expectations with us drivers,’’ Larson said. “It’s good to get those reminders every now and then and continue to race good in the future with each other. I’ll catch-up more with Chase (Elliott) in a little bit and we’ll be good.’’
“Hopefully nothing like that happens again.”
Larson’s spotter, Tyler Monn, took to social media last week after the race saying it was his mistake for not letting Larson know Elliott was outside him.
“I was worried more about the 22 (Logano) and not the 9 (Elliott). It was a late call on me it had nothing to do with Kyle (Larson),’’ Monn said on Twitter.