KANSAS CITY, Kan. – Christopher Bell earned a second chance on Saturday.
For the second straight NASCAR Cup Series playoff race, Bell will start from the pole position after a blistering lap at 180.276 mph (29.954 seconds) in the final round of qualifying for Sunday’s Hollywood Casino 400 at Kansas Speedway (3 p.m. ET, USA, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio, NBC Sports App).
Bell beat last Sunday’s Darlington winner Kyle Larson (179.826 mph) by 0.075 seconds to win his fourth Busch Light Pole Award of the season, his second at Kansas and the eighth of his career.
After starting from the top spot in last Sunday’s Cook Out Southern 500, Bell suffered a litany of issues – from a slow first pit stop to hard contact with the outside wall to a five-car wreck that collected his No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota late in the race.
As a result of his 23rd-place finish in the Round of 16 opener, Bell came to Kansas 12th in the Cup standings, just one point ahead of Bubba Wallace in 13th. The pole position at the 1.5-mile speedway gives him a chance at redemption.
“That was a lot of fun,” Bell said. “Qualifying here is very intense. That’s certainly all we had. I felt very good in practice today in race trim. Week after week we come to the race track with cars that are capable of racing for wins. …
“(Winning the pole) definitely takes a little bit of pressure off. If you’ve got a fast car, you can just go out there and run your pace. Clean air feels a lot better than being back in the pack.”
Martin Truex Jr. qualified third at 178.767 mph, followed by Chase Elliott (178.648 mph) and Tyler Reddick (178.495 mph).
Bell knew a sub-30-second lap was a possibility after seeing Ross Chastain turn the fastest circuit of the day in the first round of time trials in 29.925 seconds (180.451 mph). Chastain was sixth fastest in the final round at 178.324 mph.
But how does a driver eliminate the sorts of mistakes that cost him dearly in the first playoff race?
“Controlling what you can control,” Bell said. “I don’t know how many people, but (there’s) a handful of people on the team that just have to control what they can control, and I’m a big part of that equation.
“So last week, I made a mistake early in the race that ruined our finish and, yeah, that was me not doing my job, and I’m glad I get another opportunity this week to try.”
Michael McDowell, the only Ford driver to make the final round, will start seventh, with Austin Dillon eighth.
William Byron was ninth fastest in the final round, posting a lap after his crew fixed a suspension issue that surfaced during Saturday’s practice.
Wallace will take the green flag from the 10th position.
Playoff driver Kyle Busch will start from the rear of the field for the second straight race after a flat tire sent him into the outside wall during practice, necessitating repairs to his No. 8 Chevrolet, which did not make a qualifying run.
Ty Gibbs suffered a similar fate during practice and will start from the rear in a backup car.
Playoff drivers starting outside the top 10 include: Joey Logano 11th, Brad Keselowski 12th, Chris Buescher 13th, Denny Hamlin 14th, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. 16th, Ryan Blaney 17th and Kevin Harvick 20th.
Elliott and Dillon are the only drivers in the top 10 not competing for the drivers’ championship, though Elliott’s No. 9 Chevrolet is running for the owners’ title.
Playoff-eligible drivers swept the top three spots in qualifying and six of the top seven. Sunday’s 400-mile event is the second of three races in the Round of 16, the opening elimination portion of the 10-race playoffs.
Tyler Reddick tops Kansas practice
Playoff driver Tyler Reddick topped NASCAR Cup Series practice Saturday at Kansas Speedway.
Reddick drove the No. 45 23XI Racing Toyota to the top of the single-lap speed chart with a clocking of 178.808 mph at the 1.5-mile Kansas City track. He was also fastest in the consecutive 10-lap average category.
William Byron posted the second-fastest lap with his No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet before pulling to pit road with a broken suspension piece. His team was able to repair the car before qualifying, where he was among the five fastest in his group.
Bubba Wallace, the defending race winner and Reddick’s 23XI Racing teammate was third-fastest, with Kyle Larson and Ryan Blaney rounding out the top five. Playoff drivers swept the first five positions on the practice leaderboard and seven of the top eight.
Kyle Busch also found trouble in the practice session, scraping the outside retaining wall in Turn 4 with his No. 8 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet. The car’s right-rear tire went flat, and he did not post a qualifying lap.
Contributing: Staff reports