By Reid Spencer, NASCAR Wire Service
Kyle Larson speeds to pole position for Martinsville elimination race
MARTINSVILLE, Va. – Kyle Larson backed up last Sunday’s victory at Homestead-Miami Speedway with a pole-winning run at Martinsville Speedway.
Though Larson has been eliminated from the NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs, he’ll lead the field to green in the race to decide which three drivers will join Joey Logano in the November 6 Championship 4 event at Phoenix Raceway—Sunday’s Xfinity 500 (2 p.m. ET on NBC, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).
After locking up on his first lap in the final round, Larson was less aggressive on the lap that gave Larson his fourth Busch Light Pole Award of the season, his first at Martinsville and the 14th of his career.
“I kind of backed it down the second lap,” said Larson, who navigated the tight paper-clip-shaped .526-mile short track in 19.709 seconds (96.078 mph). “I feel like a lot of times here slower is faster.
“I was just trying to be smooth with it. I’m surprised that I did anything good here at Martinsville. It’s a good start so far, and hopefully we can keep it going tomorrow.”
Playoff drivers Chase Elliott and Chase Briscoe tied for second fastest at 19.721 seconds (96.019 mph), with Elliott getting the front row nod because of higher standing in owner points. Elliott is 11 points above the current cutoff for the Championship 4 Round; Briscoe is 44 points below, needing a victory to advance to the title race.
Playoff driver Ryan Blaney qualified fourth at 95.927 mph. Non-Playoff drivers claimed five of the next six positions, with ninth-place qualifier Ross Chastain the only other title-eligible driver to advance to the final round.
Denny Hamlin, five points behind William Byron for the final Championship 4 spot, will start 11th on Sunday. After a disappointing qualifying effort, Byron will take the green from 25th, five positions behind Christopher Bell, another Playoff driver in a likely must-win situation.
Notes: Though Larson has been eliminated from the drivers’ championship, his No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet is still eligible for the owners’ title… Larson has started first at Martinsville on two previous occasions that don’t count as poles won. He was first in owner points in 2017 when time trials were rained out, and he started first in 2021 when grid positions were determined by metrics.
Joey Logano is on a familiar path heading to Championship 4 race
During his 2018 championship season, Joey Logano won the first race in the Round of 8 of the NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs and benefitted from an immediate shift to focus to Homestead-Miami Speedway, then the site of the season finale.
For the third time in five years, Logano has used a victory in the first Round of 8 as a springboard to the Championship 4. This year, he won the opening race of the round at Las Vegas Motor Speedway and will race for a second Cup title at Phoenix Raceway.
“If I look at our best chances to win the championship, they’ve come after winning the first race in the Round of 8,” Logano said. “Winning here in 2018, that gave us a great advantage. We won in Kansas in 2020 and that was a good help, and now once again winning in Vegas. I think those give us our best chance.
“In 2020, I don’t see anything our team did wrong. In a way, that’s kind of extra motivation to seek revenge after that last run at Phoenix when the tires started shaking and we lost the lead with whatever it was – 40-50 to go – and fall back after cycling on the green flag pit stop to the lead.
“Everything was going the way it’s supposed to, ran the 9 (Chase Elliott) down, passed him, the whole nine—and then giving it away like that. That’s hurt for the last couple years for me, and I can’t say I’m over it, so this is the moment of revenge on that.”
Bubba Wallace returns to action after one-race suspension
Bubba Wallace had his share of self-described “humble pie” after wrecking Kyle Larson in the tri-oval at Texas Motor Speedway.
Wallace served a one-race suspension for the Oct. 16 incident and is ready to return to action in Sunday’s Xfinity 500 (2 p.m. ET on NBC, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) at Martinsville.
In the interim, Wallace and Larson had a meaningful conversation.
“For the record, I have talked to Larson, and we had a great conversation this week,” Wallace said on Saturday at Martinsville. “I think the best thing for us is we both understood where our frustrations were and moving forward and how we both can handle those situations better.”
The mandatory week off was also a learning experience for the 23XI Racing driver.
“It was tough,” Wallace said. “I tweeted out, ‘humble pie.’… What have I learned? You have to think before you do. In this sport, it’s the heat of the moment type things that get to you. Seeing that and going back and looking at a 10,000-foot view, definitely could have handled everything way different and been in a different spot.
“I put myself in a bad light, I put our team in a bad light, our sponsors – it’s just something that I’m not proud of, but moving on, moving forward and not allowed to make that mistake again.”
Parker Kligerman will drive full-time for Big Machine Racing in 2023
There won’t be any more ride sharing for Big Machine Racing in 2023.
On Saturday at Martinsville, team owner Scott Borchetta revealed that Parker Kligerman has been hired as the full-time driver of the No. 48 Big Machine Chevrolet in the NASCAR Xfinity Series for 2023.
Kligerman ran one race in the car this season, starting ninth and finishing sixth at Talladega Superspeedway. While doubling as a TV analyst and pit reporter for NASCAR on NBC, Kligerman also competed in 12 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series events for owner Charlie Henderson, winning the July race at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.
“The mission has always been to be with one driver and build the race team,” said Borchetta, who had a revolving door with 10 different drivers in the car this season and picked up a victory at Texas with Tyler Reddick behind the wheel.
“Parker brings experience and a huge desire to do this, and that was our first conversation: ‘Hey, do you still have the fire to go and run for a championship?’”
Kligerman’s answer was an enthusiastic “Yes.”
The tipping point for Kligerman was the Talladega race.
“This happened so fluidly, so seamlessly—it felt like when we did Talladega it was just so seamless,” Kligerman said. “And the short span from talking to signing was quick. We were all aligned with the same goals, the same thought process…
“For me in my career right now, I’ve told everybody that will listen, in the last two years, I’ve never driven better in my life.”
As his schedule permits, Kligerman also will continue to race the No. 75 truck for Henderson.