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April 13, 2024

Kyle Larson storms to third straight Busch Light Pole Award, wins Texas pole

For the third consecutive NASCAR Cup Series race, Hendrick Motorsports driver Kyle Larson will lead the field to green – capturing the pole position Saturday afternoon for Sunday’s AutoTrader EchoPark Automotive 400 (3:30 p.m. ET, FS1, PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) at Texas Motor Speedway.

Larson, the last of the 10 Round 2 qualifiers to make a lap, turned in a pole effort of 190.369 mph in the No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet, .003-second faster than Joe Gibbs Racing’s Ty Gibbs. It’s the 250th pole win for the venerable Hendrick team and marks the 13th different NASCAR Cup Series track where Larson has bested a qualifying session. It’s his 25th career pole overall.

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“Great car for one, and cool to get three poles in a row and like I said on the radio, that’s about the most intense thing you can do or experience, it’s so on edge,” Larson said of qualifying on the always-challenging 1.5-mile Texas high banks. “You know how much throttle time you have to have to run fast. It’s just so sketchy.

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“Yeah, that was cool. … just a great day and I’m really, really happy to get pole. Honestly since we’ve gone to the Next Gen car this has been a place I’ve really struggled in qualifying, like committing into Turn 1 and I told myself I was going to commit today, and it paid off.”

The qualifying outcome was not truly a surprise considering Larson and Gibbs had also been fastest in practice. Larson, the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series champion and current points leader, last won at Texas in his championship season. Gibbs, in his second year of competition, is racing for his first victory in NASCAR’s elite level.

Gibbs’ JGR teammate Christopher Bell was third fastest in the No. 20 JGR Toyota, followed by Tyler Reddick in the No. 45 23XI Racing Toyota and Stewart-Haas Racing’s Chase Briscoe – his No. 14 Ford the fastest of three Fords that advanced to final qualifying.

The season’s three-race winner and the defending Texas winner, Hendrick Motorsports’ William Byron will roll off sixth followed by Team Penske’s Ford drivers Ryan Blaney — reigning series champion — and his teammate Austin Cindric. JGR’s Martin Truex Jr. and last year’s pole-winner, 23XI Racing’s Bubba Wallace round out the 10 fastest qualifiers.

Qualifying has always been important at Texas with 76 percent of the races won from a top-10 starting position.

Briscoe, Blaney and Cindric’s effort in time trials may be especially critical this week as Ford is still looking for its first victory of the 2024 season.

JGR’s Denny Hamlin will start 11th — giving all four of the team’s cars good starting position for Sunday’s race. He’ll line up next to Trackhouse Racing’s Ross Chastain, who is racing for his first victory of the season as well.

Two cars suffered damage in Group B practice — the track’s all-time winningest driver Kyle Busch, fresh off a NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series victory Friday night, spun his No. 8 Richard Childress Racing Chevy exiting Turn 2 and bringing out a brief red flag.

Shortly after practice resumed, the NASCAR Cup Series race’s all-time winningest driver, Jimmie Johnson also had trouble negotiating Turn 2, his No. 84 Legacy Motor Club Chevy making heavy contact with the wall. The team pulled out a backup for Sunday’s race — the NASCAR Hall of Famer Johnson’s second start of the season — but no decision had been made by the start of qualifying session if he would need to swap cars.

Neither Johnson nor Busch made a qualifying run and will start 37th and 34th, respectively. Johnson has won a series best seven NASCAR Cup Series races at the track and on Friday night, Busch’s win in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series gave him a combined 20 victories at Texas across NASCAR’s three premier series. He’s a four-time winner in the NASCAR Cup Series race in Fort Worth.

“It is a bit different — there is no doubt,” the seven-time series champion Johnson conceded of the Next Gen race car used in competition now. “I felt like we did a nice job trying to get me ready in the simulator. Unfortunately, I just got a little loose in turn one – I caught it – but it is such a narrow lane, that once I caught the car I was in the wall, and I was kind of along for the ride then.”