TALLADEGA, Ala. — Stewart-Haas Racing’s Aric Almirola claimed the pole position for Sunday’s YellaWood 500 (2 p.m. ET, NBC, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio, NBC Sports App) with a fast lap of 181.656 mph in the No. 10 SHR Ford; the 39-year old Tampa native just bettering the speed of fellow Ford driver and reigning NASCAR Cup Series champion Joey Logano Saturday afternoon by 0.004 seconds.
Almirola’s SHR teammate Chase Briscoe was third fastest and will start on the second row alongside Hendrick Motorsports’ Kyle Larson, the top qualifier among the 12 NASCAR Cup Series Playoff drivers.
“You know these races come down to pit stops really, track position at the end, and so having a good pit stall, a clean-in and clean-out, stuff like that, that all matters,” said Almirola, who won the fall race on the 2.66-mile Talladega high banks in 2018 and gets first pit selection with this pole-winning effort Saturday, his sixth career pole.
“I’m just really proud of all the guys on this 10 team. We’ve been working so hard to put speed in these Smithfield Ford Mustangs and [engine builder] Doug Yates obviously brings a ton of horsepower when we come to these type race tracks.
“It’s not a secret, this has been a tough year for us,” Almirola said of the four-car SHR organization that is still racing for its first win of the season. “So to show that kind of grit and resolve with everyone continuing to grind and work and bring fast race cars to the race track. That says a lot about our race team. Just really proud. The driver has a small part to do with it at these places, but a lot of it is just the speed built into the cars.”
Five of the 12 playoff drivers advanced to second-round qualifying on Saturday. Brad Keselowski, whose six wins at Talladega are most in the field, qualified fifth in his Roush Fenway Keselowski Ford. Hendrick Motorsports’ William Byron, who has already punched his ticket into Round of 8 with a victory last week at Texas Motor Speedway, will start eighth. 23XI Racing’s Bubba Wallace and Team Penske’s Ryan Blaney round out the top 10 positions on Sunday’s starting grid.
Several other playoff drivers were just off that pace. Joe Gibbs Racing driver Denny Hamlin, who leads the standings in terms of points, will roll off 12th Sunday. 23XI Racing’s Tyler Reddick was 13th-fastest in final qualifying, with Joe Gibbs Racing teammates Christopher Bell and Martin Truex Jr. 15th and 16th, respectively.
RFK Racing’s Chris Buescher will start 24th, with Richard Childress Racing’s Kyle Busch lining up his Chevrolet 25th on the grid. Trackhouse Racing’s Ross Chastain – who finished runner-up at Texas last week – rounds out the current playoff dozen and will start 32nd.
Among those drivers who advanced to the final round qualifying and not competing in the Round of 12, NASCAR Xfinity Series regular Riley Herbst turned in an impressive result, qualifying a Front Row Motorsports car sixth – his best start in four NASCAR Cup Series races. Blaney’s Team Penske teammate Austin Cindric – the 2021 Daytona 500 winner – was seventh-fastest.
Going into this second race of the three-race round of playoff competition, Hamlin holds a 37-point edge to ninth-place Wallace, who sits only two points behind Larson. Reddick is 10th, three points behind Larson, followed by Blaney (-11) and Busch (-17).
“I think [starting position] definitely helps for the first stage, and hopefully, we can get some stage points, but outside of the first stage, I don’t think it really matters a ton,” said Larson, who is competing for his first Talladega victory.
“I feel happy we made the final round, but we’ll see. I think it should be good.”