MARTINSVILLE, Va. – 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 Sunday’s Xfinity 500 (2 p.m. ET, NBC, NBC Sports App, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio), the race to decide which three drivers will join Joey Logano in the Nov. 6 Championship 4 event at Phoenix Raceway.
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.
Denny Hamlin posted the fastest lap in practice at 95.079 mph, his 19.916-second lap time besting Ryan Blaney by just .001 seconds on the leaderboard to the No. 12 Ford’s 95.075 mph lap. Chase Elliott (94.922 mph), Kyle Larson (94.870 mph) and Tyler Reddick (94.827 mph) completed the top five on the single-lap leaderboard.
With 500 laps ahead on Sunday, long-run speed will prove critical. Blaney excelled Saturday, boasting the best 10-lap average at 94.770 mph. William Byron, Chase Briscoe, Aric Almirola and Chase Elliott rounded out the top five on the long run, while Christopher Bell, Larson, Cole Custer, Reddick and Hamlin completed the top 10.
Ross Chastain struggled the most of the playoff contenders not yet locked into the Championship 4. The No. 1 Trackhouse Racing Chevrolet was 18th-quickest on the single-lap leaderboard and only improved to 16th overall on the 10-lap averages at 93.879 mph.
Joey Logano was slowest of all playoff drivers, placing 23rd in single-lap speeds at 94.153 mph and 18th in 10-lap averages at 93.835 mph.
Contributing: Staff reports