By Holly Cain, NASCAR Wire Service
Chris Buescher earned his first career NASCAR Cup Series pole position at Dover (Del.) Motor Speedway Saturday and will lead the field to green in Sunday’s DuraMAX Drydene 400 (3 p.m. ET, FS1, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).
The driver of the No. 17 Roush Fenway Keselowski Racing Ford turned a fast lap of 159.207 mph around the concrete Monster Mile – the second of the 10 final qualifiers to go in the final session. The 29-year old Texan’s time was .057-second faster than Denny Hamlin in the No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota.
This is Buescher’s first pole position in 233 NASCAR Cup Series race starts.
“That’s just awesome right there,’’ a smiling Buescher said after watching the final session on pit road.
“That was a good effort during practice. [His teammate] Brad [Keselowski] went out there and put down some really great laps and came over and saw some things, relayed it and everyone did a good job working on this thing and got our Fastenal Mustang on the front row so that’s a heckuva start.
“Good to do that here in Dover. I love this place. It’s a ride. We’re flying around here.’’
Hendrick Motorsports drivers Kyle Larson and Chase Elliott will start from the second row, followed by Team Penske’s Ryan Blaney and defending race winner, Hendrick’s Alex Bowman.
Last week’s Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway race winner Ross Chastain – fastest in the opening round of time trails – will start seventh alongside Daniel Suarez. Bubba Wallace and Kyle Busch will round out the Top-10 starters in a pair of Toyotas.
Austin Cindric was fastest in practice but did not advance to the final qualifying round. He was the fastest rookie qualifier and will start the No. 2 Team Penske Ford from 12th position.
Kevin Harvick, one of three three-time Dover race winners, was 11th fastest in qualifying just missing the final round. It will be his highest starting position in the last three races. The driver of the No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford is looking to score his first win since Sept. 19, 2020 (at Bristol, Tenn.) – 53 races ago. He won at Dover, Del. that same year.
Four drivers did not make NASCAR Cup Series qualifying laps on Saturday. William Byron, rookies Todd Gilliland and Harrison Burton and Josh Bilicki all had incidents during practice and will go to back-up cars for the race.
Byron, a two-race winner in 2022, had an incident in the opening minutes of his practice session and hit the wall hard enough that his No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports team immediately knew it would need to prepare a back-up car. He will start 33rd among the 36 cars.
“Just hate it for our guys more than anything,’’ said Byron, who is ranked third in the championship standings.
“Have to pull out a back-up car obviously. The primary was probably going to be really fast and I know our back-up car can be just as fast and we can still go and try to win on Sunday. But just a little bit over-confident on my end (in the accident).’’
Gilliland and Bilicki made contact with the wall early in the opening practice. Byron and Burton had their trouble in the second practice session. Tyler Reddick, spun twice in that session but did not need to go to a second car. He will start the No. 8 Richard Childress Racing 26th.
BACK HOME AGAIN FOR TRUEX
Dover Motor Speedway is a special place to Martin Truex Jr. It’s the New Jersey native’s “home track” and also the place where the 2017 NASCAR Cup Series champion fittingly earned his first premier series victory in 2007.
Truex, driver of the No. 19 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota, joins teammate Kyle Busch and Stewart-Haas Racing’s Harvick as three-time Dover race winners – most among active drivers in the series.
“Having experience around this track brings confidence to know what you might want is important, but we only have 20 minutes (of practice) to figure that out – figure out how to get that in the car and not have a lot of ability to change the big things,’’ said Truex, who qualified 18th.
Two-time former NASCAR Cup Series champion Kyle Busch was asked about comments he made last week saying he was unsure of his future with the Joe Gibbs Racing team. He is in the middle of negotiating a new contract with the team and last week deferred reporters’ questions about his status to the team.
Asked on Saturday if he’s had any more talk with JGR in the last week, Busch said, “yeah, there were some discussions and such,’’ adding, “There is nothing to elaborate on, it’s all good.’’
Busch, a three-time Dover winner, will start the No. 18 JGR Toyota 10th.
ROSS CHASTAIN OFF TO A GREAT START
Ross Chastain has earned his first two NASCAR Cup Series race victories in just the past five weeks – a career first win at Austin’s Circuit of the Americas’ road course on March 27 and answered it with a win on the series’ biggest track, Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway last weekend.
Both Chastain’s wins in the No. 1 Trackhouse Racing Chevrolet came on last lap passes. It’s been quite a season debut for Chastain with the Trackhouse Racing team. And Chastain, who had a reputation for a more aggressive racing style earlier in this career, says he’s learned from that and made an effort to race differently.
“It’s all about being there at the end,’’ said Chastain, who is ninth in the championship. “There were opportunities in both of those races to take ourselves out and it didn’t happen. Now there have been other races this year that small mistakes added up to us not winning and we had the same opportunity to.
“I’m not perfect. I’m human. There’s mistakes and we’ve had a great start to the season and stats look great, but there’s mistakes in there that I’ve also learned from this year. Continue to evolve that is tough. I mean, this is the best group of race car drivers in the world, in my opinion. Any mistake and they exploit it.’’
Only one car had issues during pre-qualifying inspection for Sunday’s race. The No. 42 Petty GMS Motorsports Chevrolet driven by Ty Dillon failed inspection twice, costing the team pit selection. One crew member was also ejected for the race.