DARLINGTON, S.C. – In his sophomore season in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series—and his first with veteran crew chief Chad Knaus—William Byron continues to make history.
On Saturday at Darlington Raceway, Byron covered the 1.366-mile distance at the egg-shaped track in 28.510 seconds (172.487 mph), winning the pole position for Sunday’s Bojangles’ Southern 500 (6 p.m. ET on NBCSN, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).
Not only did Byron claim his first Busch Pole Award at Darlington and his fourth of the season, but he also became part of an elite triumvirate. Before his pole-winning run on Saturday, only Fireball Roberts in 1962 and Bill Elliott in 1985 had ever won poles for the Daytona 500, the Coca-Cola 600 and the Southern 500 in the same season.
With his fourth career pole, Byron is now a member of that exclusive club.
Byron acknowledged that he and Knaus have concentrated on qualifying at the marquee races, but with Darlington being an impound event, there’s a necessary compromise between race and qualifying setups.
“Our race setup (at Darlington) was good in qualifying trim,” Byron said. “It just happened to work out that way that we focused on qualifying, and I’m sure Chad puts his extra little bit into, too, and I kind of put my extra couple cents into it to make sure I hit everything right.
“I felt good driving down here this morning. Only having to make one lap today is pretty easy, so I said, ‘Go on out there and try to not screw up and make a good lap.”
Driving a throwback City Chevrolet paint scheme on his No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Camaro—a nod to the movie “Days of Thunder”—Byron did exactly that, edging Ford driver and defending race winner Brad Keselowski (172.088 mph) for the top starting spot by .066 seconds.
The Chip Ganassi Racing duo of Kyle Larson (171.842 mph) and Kurt Busch (171.764 mph) earned the third and fourth starting positions for Sunday’s race. A pair of drivers fighting for the final Playoff positions—Daniel Suarez and Jimmie Johnson—will start fifth and sixth respectively.
Two-time Darlington winner Denny Hamlin qualified ninth in the fastest Toyota.
Ryan Newman, currently 15th in the standings, will start 24th as he tries to hold on to his provisional playoff spot.
“I’m not happy with it because we’re not P1, but I felt like I got everything I could as far as driving out of it,” Newman said. “It’s kind of a crapshoot. We’re wide open from Turn 4 to Turn 3, and however you get through 3 and 4 coming to your green, and then your timed lap is where it’s all at.
“It’s my favorite race track. I’m looking forward to the race. I feel like we’ve got a car that drives fairly good. I just don’t know that we have the speed that it takes to be as good as we need to be.”
The No. 95 Leavine Family Racing Toyota of Matt DiBenedetto failed pre-qualifying inspection twice on Saturday. As a result, NASCAR ejected a crew member (car chief) for Sunday’s Bojangles’ Southern 500 and will dock the team 15 minutes of practice time at the next event.