By Reid Spencer, NASCAR Wire Service
MARTINSVILLE, Va. – Likely needing a victory in Sunday’s Xfinity 500 to qualify for the NASCAR Cup Series Championship 4, Martin Truex Jr. took the first step in the right direction on Saturday, winning the pole position for the Round of 8 elimination race (2 p.m. ET on NBC, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).
Truex turned a lap in 20.112 seconds (94.153 mph) in the final round of time trials to edge Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Ty Gibbs (94.115 mph) for the top starting spot by 0.008 second. The Busch Light Pole Award was Truex’s third of the season, his second at Martinsville and the 23rd of his career.
Truex has won three of the last eight races at the 0.526-mile short track but none since the introduction of NASCAR’s Next Gen race car in 2022.
“The first round I wasn’t really sure how hard to go and how hard to push it or what the balance was going to be like,” said Truex, who nevertheless posted the fastest lap of the day in Round 1 (20.018 seconds). “The last time we ran here, the tires were different—a lot was different.
“Our car was pretty free in practice, and I was a little concerned about that, but the guys made good adjustments, and the car was really close. Round 2, we just made a small adjustment and made the car more comfortable. It gave me a little more confidence on throttle, and that’s where the time was.”
The margin between Gibbs and third-place qualifier Chase Briscoe (94.106 mph ) was even tighter than the gap between first and second—0.002 seconds. Denny Hamlin qualified fourth at 94.055 mph to give JGR three of the top four starting positions.
Like Truex, Hamlin almost certainly needs a victory on Sunday to advance to the Championship 4. Gibbs and Briscoe did not qualify for the Playoffs this season.
Kyle Larson and Christopher Bell, already locked into the title race with their respective victories at Las Vegas and Homestead, will start fifth and seventh, respectively, with non-Playoff driver Bubba Wallace taking the sixth position on the grid.
In his final Cup season, Kevin Harvick will start his final Martinsville race from the eighth position, followed by fellow Ford drivers Ryan Preece and Brad Keselowski. The starting field includes five Toyotas, four Fords and one Chevrolet (Larson).
In the first round of Group A qualifying, three Playoff drivers made the possibility of advancement to the Championship 4 relatively more difficult. Tyler Reddick, fifth in the standings and 10 points below the current cut line for Championship 4, spun in Turn 4 on his second qualifying lap and will start 19th.
Chris Buescher, needing a victory to advance, will start one position ahead of Reddick. William Byron, with a 30-point edge over Reddick and likely to earn a Championship 4 spot on points, qualified 16th.
“We just can’t qualify here,” lamented Byron. “Chattered tires—last year it was front, this year it’s rear. Just can’t hit it, weather changes… not happy about qualifying, just the way we’ve been right on the edge of the bubble here the last few times.
“But I think our race car in race trim is honestly pretty good, so we’ve just got to focus on that now. We can’t change qualifying…but we’ll fight from there.”
In Group B, Ryan Blaney, fourth in the standings and trailing Byron by 20 points, will start 11th.
NASCAR Cup Series Qualifying – Xfinity 500
Saturday, October 28, 2023
1. (19) Martin Truex Jr. (P) @, Toyota, 94.153 mph.
2. (54) Ty Gibbs #, Toyota, 94.115 mph.
3. (14) Chase Briscoe, Ford, 94.106 mph.
4. (11) Denny Hamlin (P) @, Toyota, 94.055 mph.
5. (5) Kyle Larson (P) @, Chevrolet, 93.854 mph.
6. (23) Bubba Wallace, Toyota, 93.784 mph.
7. (20) Christopher Bell (P) @, Toyota, 93.705 mph.
8. (4) Kevin Harvick, Ford, 93.548 mph.
9. (41) Ryan Preece, Ford, 93.548 mph.
10. (6) Brad Keselowski, Ford, 93.423 mph.
11. (12) Ryan Blaney (P) @, Ford, 0.000 mph.
12. (10) Aric Almirola, Ford, 0.000 mph.
13. (1) Ross Chastain, Chevrolet, 0.000 mph.
14. (9) Chase Elliott (P), Chevrolet, 0.000 mph.
15. (22) Joey Logano, Ford, 0.000 mph.
16. (24) William Byron (P) @, Chevrolet, 0.000 mph.
17. (38) Todd Gilliland, Ford, 0.000 mph.
18. (17) Chris Buescher (P) @, Ford, 0.000 mph.
19. (45) Tyler Reddick (P) @, Toyota, 0.000 mph.
20. (47) Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Chevrolet, 0.000 mph.
21. (2) Austin Cindric, Ford, 0.000 mph.
22. (48) Alex Bowman, Chevrolet, 0.000 mph.
23. (34) Michael McDowell, Ford, 0.000 mph.
24. (31) Justin Haley, Chevrolet, 0.000 mph.
25. (16) AJ Allmendinger, Chevrolet, 0.000 mph.
26. (3) Austin Dillon, Chevrolet, 0.000 mph.
27. (99) Daniel Suarez, Chevrolet, 0.000 mph.
28. (21) Harrison Burton, Ford, 0.000 mph.
29. (43) Erik Jones, Chevrolet, 0.000 mph.
30. (7) Corey LaJoie, Chevrolet, 0.000 mph.
31. (8) Kyle Busch, Chevrolet, 0.000 mph.
32. (42) Carson Hocevar(i), Chevrolet, 0.000 mph.
33. (51) Ryan Newman(i), Ford, 0.000 mph.
34. (77) Ty Dillon, Chevrolet, 0.000 mph.
35. (15) JJ Yeley(i), Ford, 0.000 mph.
36. (78) BJ McLeod(i), Chevrolet, 0.000 mph.