By Holly Cain, NASCAR Wire Service
RICHMOND, Va. – Tyler Reddick earned his first Busch Light Pole Award of the season – and first with his new team, 23XI Racing, Saturday afternoon with a lap of 113.669 mph in the No. 45 23XI Racing Toyota at Richmond Raceway. He outpaced Richard Childress Racing’s Kyle Busch – the track’s winningest active driver – in the No. RCR Chevrolet by a slight .011-second.
“Really excited to be on the pole for the first time this year with 23XI and nice to finally get that first pole with the team,’’ said Reddick, who made slight contact with the Turn 4 wall during the first session of qualifying and wasn’t sure if the team would need to make any repairs before Sunday’s Cook Out 400 (3 p.m. ET, USA Network, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).
“I pretty much knew I was going to hit the wall but I knew if I lifted I wasn’t going to be able to make that second round, so I stayed in it,’’ Reddick said of the close call. “Hit the wall pretty good but was able to transfer into that second round.’’
The Californian Reddick, 27, who has a win already this year at the Circuit of the Americas road course, was especially pleased to notch his first pole position for his new team as well. And with Toyota winning three of the last six races – including the last two – he is optimistic about the make’s chances come Sunday.
“I feel like we’ve been really strong since the year started,’’ Reddick said, adding, “We had the speed and were kind of giving away the races and opportunities and all of us have done a better job of executing and closing out those races and getting those wins.’’
Joe Gibbs Racing’s Denny Hamlin, Hendrick Motorsports’ Chase Elliott and Reddick’s teammate Bubba Wallace rounded out the Top Five at the 0.75-mile Richmond oval.
Hendrick’s William Byron, JGR rookie Ty Gibbs, defending race winner Stewart Haas Racing’s Kevin Harvick, JTG Daugherty Racing’s Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and current NASCAR Cup Series championship leader, JGR’s Martin Truex Jr. rounded out the Top-10 cars that advanced to final qualifying.
Hendrick Motorsports’ Kyle Larson, who won at Richmond in the Spring, will roll off 14th.
Of note, the cars of Ross Chastain (No. 1 Trackhouse Racing Chevrolet), Chase Elliott (No. 9 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet) and Justin Haley (No. 31 Kaulig Racing Chevrolet) failed pre-race inspection twice and will lose their car chiefs and pit selections for Sunday’s race.
NASCAR Cup Series Qualifying – Cook Out 400
Saturday, July 29, 2023
1. (45) Tyler Reddick, Toyota, 113.689 mph.
2. (8) Kyle Busch, Chevrolet, 113.636 mph.
3. (11) Denny Hamlin, Toyota, 113.536 mph.
4. (9) Chase Elliott, Chevrolet, 113.503 mph.
5. (23) Bubba Wallace, Toyota, 113.374 mph.
6. (24) William Byron, Chevrolet, 113.369 mph.
7. (54) Ty Gibbs #, Toyota, 113.355 mph.
8. (4) Kevin Harvick, Ford, 113.246 mph.
9. (47) Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Chevrolet, 112.843 mph.
10. (19) Martin Truex Jr., Toyota, 112.622 mph.
11. (41) Ryan Preece, Ford, 0.000 mph.
12. (42) Noah Gragson #, Chevrolet, 0.000 mph.
13. (6) Brad Keselowski, Ford, 0.000 mph.
14. (5) Kyle Larson, Chevrolet, 0.000 mph.
15. (48) Alex Bowman, Chevrolet, 0.000 mph.
16. (38) Todd Gilliland, Ford, 0.000 mph.
17. (3) Austin Dillon, Chevrolet, 0.000 mph.
18. (34) Michael McDowell, Ford, 0.000 mph.
19. (1) Ross Chastain, Chevrolet, 0.000 mph.
20. (14) Chase Briscoe, Ford, 0.000 mph.
21. (78) BJ McLeod, Chevrolet, 0.000 mph.
22. (21) Harrison Burton, Ford, 0.000 mph.
23. (22) Joey Logano, Ford, 0.000 mph.
24. (10) Aric Almirola, Ford, 0.000 mph.
25. (12) Ryan Blaney, Ford, 0.000 mph.
26. (17) Chris Buescher, Ford, 0.000 mph.
27. (43) Erik Jones, Chevrolet, 0.000 mph.
28. (31) Justin Haley, Chevrolet, 0.000 mph.
29. (20) Christopher Bell, Toyota, 0.000 mph.
30. (2) Austin Cindric, Ford, 0.000 mph.
31. (7) Corey LaJoie, Chevrolet, 0.000 mph.
32. (51) Ryan Newman, Ford, 0.000 mph.
33. (99) Daniel Suarez, Chevrolet, 0.000 mph.
34. (77) Ty Dillon, Chevrolet, 0.000 mph.
35. (15) JJ Yeley(i), Ford, 0.000 mph.
36. (16) Derek Kraus(i), Chevrolet, 0.000 mph.
HAMLIN AND LARSON
Kyle Larson received a text message from Denny Hamlin on Friday night to address the ending of the Pocono (Pa.) Raceway race when the two friends raced each other hard in the closing laps to settle the victory. There was contact between the two cars and Larson hit the wall – dropping all the way back to 21st position for the finish, while Hamlin drove his No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota to the second win of the season – his career 50th and Toyota’s 600th.
The crowd was unhappy, some even booing the Virginia native Hamlin. And Larson was uncharacteristically pointed in post-race interviews. The two golfing buddies had communication this week, but have agreed to disagree.
“He wanted to find some time to catch up and I told him I didn’t really think we needed to,’’ Larson said. “We just texted briefly and I thought that was probably better ultimately. I think I probably would have gotten more frustrated had we talked in person. I think he probably would have been more frustrated with me as well if we talked.”
The timing of the call, Larson said, doesn’t matter, noting that “waiting, a lot of times, is better anyway.’’
“There is always going to be a difference of opinion and sometimes you have to agree to disagree,’’ Hamlin said from Richmond Saturday. ‘That’s okay, but the biggest thing is I think hearing the other person out and understanding why they are frustrated. Sometimes you get caught up in your own world, thinking about your own team and how important it is to them, and you have an incident like that, you need to sit down and take a second to hear the other side. I totally understand that for sure.’’
Having said all that, however, Hamlin was not convinced that the sort of aggressive racing was out-of-bounds, the veteran noting the overall style of competition in the sport has changed – evolved – in recent years, however you choose to see.
“It is how I’m going to be, that’s for sure,’’ Hamlin said. “I’m not going to back down. I’m having to adapt my style to this. It is not the same as it was 10 years ago. Certainly, the game has changed for sure. I think the fan should like that two people were willing to put any personal friendship aside when they go and compete on the race track on Sunday. That is when they win. They don’t want to see someone go, ‘that is less entertaining,’ and we are in an entertainment business.
“I think the fans win in that instance, but it is just certainly – in me and Kyle’s (Larson) instance – he’s gotten the worst end of it a few times and so I probably need to be more aware and be more cautious around him, simply because the scales are in my favor in that instance.”
RACING AGAINST FRIENDS
One of NASCAR’s tightest circle of friends away from the race track, includes Team Penske’s Ryan Blaney, 23XI Racing’s Bubba Wallace and Hendrick Motorsports’ Chase Elliott. In light of the highly-publicized Hamlin-Larson run-in last weekend between those golfing buddies and good friends to decide the Pocono, Pa. trophy, Blaney conceded it can be a delicate dance competing door-to-door with friends for the trophy.
“I think racing for a win, you kind of do what it takes,’’ said Blaney, who drivers the No. 12 Team Penske car. “Everyone approaches it differently what they’re going to do to win a race. Bubba, Chase and I are all good buddies and we race each other with tons amount of respect.
“But, we also probably race each other the hardest our of anybody on the racetrack – just because you trust your friend and want to race hard with them but at the same time I’m not going to go rough them up for no reason. But if it’s for a win, you both understand, hey, we’re both going for a win. Obviously, the guy that doesn’t come out on top is gonna be mad at it and think it’s bad, so you’ll aways have different opinions.
“Everyone races a little differently. I feel like the friends you race, you race super hard but you also have a lot of respect for them so it kind of balances out real good.’’
ON THE VERGE
Bubba Wallace, ranked 15th in the championship standings, sits a solid – if not totally comfortable – 27 points above the 16th place cutoff line for Playoff contention and concedes his approach to the next five regular season races presents a new challenge.
“This is first time I’ve been in this scenario in my Cup career, I’m usually a thousand points out at this time of the year and in a must-win situation,’’ Wallace said managing a slight smile.
“For having our name talked about, obviously we want to keep it above the cut-off line as best we can. But I’ve never been in this scenario.
“I feel like the more you look at [points] the more it jinxes us but I feel like we’re more than capable of winning one of these next five and erasing ourselves from being on the Playoff bubble.’’
Wallace, driver of the No. 23 23XI Racing Toyota, has won races the last two seasons – but during the 10-race Playoff portion of the season, not in time to gain an automatic Playoff berth in the 26-race regular season. But his 2023 statistics are on track for a “career year.” With 15 races remaining on the schedule, he’s already earned four Top-5 finishes – his best full season total is five. He has six top-10 finishes; his best season tally is 10.
NASCAR CRAFTSMAN TRUCK SERIES
Ty Majeski won the pole position for Saturday’s Worldwide Express 250 (7:30 p.m. ET, FS1, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series regular season finale at Richmond Raceway.
Current championship leader Corey Heim need earn only a single point in Saturday’s race to clinch that regular season title and crucial 15-point Playoff bonus. The 21-year old Georgia native will start the No. 11 TRICON Garage Toyota alongside Majeski on the front row of the 36-truck grid.
When Heim collects that all-important point – it will mark the first time a driver has won the regular season title after missing a race (at Illinois’ World Wide Technology Raceway). Heim has been so solid on the season he leads all driver with a 7.1 average finishing position and has two more Top-10 finishes (12) than anyone else in the series.
GMS Racing’s Grant Enfinger (2020) is the only previous Richmond winner in the field. He rolls off 13th.
Ryan Friedlinghaus, of MTV’s ‘Pimp My Ride’ fame, is trackside at Richmond Raceway this week undertaking a unique and well-received project. He and a crew of professional mechanics and local area school kids are building a customized Toyota Camry TRD from the ground-up – in a span of two days in the “West Coast Customs Fan Experience’ in the Richmond midway.
A longtime NASCAR fan, Friedlinghaus smiled broadly when asked how long he’s wanted to do this project.
“I’m a huge NASCAR fan and for 12 years I’ve been just poking and poking, ‘hey can I do something with the NASCAR Fan Experience’ because I feel we have a fanbase and we have a different genre of people that follow me that I think I could crossover to NASCAR,’’ Friedlinghaus said Friday from the track.
“Just seeing cars built live, there’s an attraction there and I’ve done it at SEMA all these years and people line up to watch and they line up to be a part of our classes. I was like, ‘let’s figure out a way to do that here.’ “
The car will be displayed at several upcoming NASCAR track venues and ultimately be offered up for auction with the money raised going to The NASCAR Foundation.
“Our work transcends communities and cultures,” Friedlinghaus said. “That’s why our brand is so successful, and we’re incredibly excited to partner with NASCAR to bring the custom car communities and racing communities together in a new and creative way.”