Meg Oliphant | Getty Images
Meg Oliphant | Getty Images

Christopher Bell sets blistering pace, snares Busch Light Pole for Las Vegas

LAS VEGAS — 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.

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“That’s pretty cool,’’ said Bell, who is the second driver (joining 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 to finish 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.”

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 Penske 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.

It was another early go-round for the 2022 qualifying format, with the 37-car field initially split into two groups for single-car runs. The five fastest from each early session formed a 10-car final group that battled it out for the pole position.

Bell was the top qualifier (181.482 mph) in Group A, and Larson led the speed charts with a 182.352-mph lap in Group B.

Larson stays fast, tops practice; Kyle Busch crashes

Defending race winner Kyle Larson led the way in Cup Series practice, setting the pace with a 181.184-mph lap in the 35-minute session. Larson’s No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet was also fastest in the consecutive 10-lap average category.

Christopher Bell took the second spot on the practice chart, with Ryan Blaney, William Byron and Joey Logano completing the top five in order.

MORE: Practice results | Video: Busch wrecks early | Practice analysis

A crash by Kyle Busch forced the only caution period, six minutes into the session. The Las Vegas native lost control when a tire deflated on his No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota, forcing the car into the outside retaining wall in Turn 3. His JGR crew indicated the team would prepare a reserve car for Sunday’s 400-miler.

NASCAR officials tweaked the practice structure for Saturday’s session. Competition officials switched from dividing the field into two groups for separate 15-minute sessions, opting for a single 35-minute practice for all entries.

Contributing: Staff reports