By David Morgan, Associate Editor
INDIANAPOLIS – When the NASCAR Cup Series takes to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course for the first time on Sunday afternoon, William Byron will be the driver that gets to lead them to the green after scoring the pole for the Verizon 200 at the Brickyard.
After timing in fourth quickest during the first round of qualifying, Byron turned up the wick in the second round, charging around the 14-turn, 2.439-mile infield road course in 1 minute, 27.765 seconds to boost his No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet to the top of the board.
“Thanks to Axalta, Chevrolet, and Hendrick Motorsports,” Byron said. “They’ve been building phenomenal road course cars, and they’ve been super fast. Hopefully we have the speed in the race on my end to back it up, but definitely been doing a good job in qualifying. I love that we’ve got qualifying back because I feel like that’s one of our strengths on the No. 24. Looking forward to the race and like I said, hopefully we can keep it up.”
Byron added that a pre-Brickyard simulator session with NTT IndyCar Series driver Rinus VeeKay, who won the grand prix on the Indianapolis road course back in May, helped to lessen his learning curve when it came to the new course on the Cup Series schedule.
“That honestly might have helped my lap because I felt like through Turns 13 and 14 as you get up on the Oval and go back to the right, he had an interesting technique there with the brakes,” Byron noted. “I was like quizzing him on it and trying to figure out what I could learn from it. Obviously, they use a lot more brake. They are able to turn a lot faster than we are. But it was really cool to see how up to speed he was, and thanks to him for doing that. It was really cool.”
Native Hoosier Chase Briscoe, who won last year’s NASCAR Xfinity Series race on the IMS road course, will start alongside Byron on the front row.
“That first round, I didn’t really run a super hard lap,” said Briscoe. “I was kind of conservative and when it was second, I was kind of surprised. I knew I had a little bit left in the tank. I felt like if I could beat the 5 (Larson), it was going to be okay, but then William obviously turned a phenomenal lap. It’s cool to get our HighPoint.com, Ford Performance car on the front row here at Indy.
“That was the most nervous I’ve ever been in a qualifying session in my entire career, just knowing I had an opportunity. We had a good car, so we’ll see if we can get this car in Victory Lane today. There would be nothing cooler than to get my first win here, that’s for sure.”
Following Byron and Briscoe to the line will be Byron’s Hendrick Motorsports teammates, Chase Elliott and Kyle Larson, who have combined to win all but one road course race in 2021. Larson is also fresh off a win in the Knoxville Nationals on Saturday night, having made an overnight flight from Iowa to be back in Indianapolis for the Cup Series race.
Daniel Suarez will start fifth, with Martin Truex Jr., Joey Logano, AJ Allmendinger, Ross Chastain, Cole Custer, Tyler Reddick, and Michael McDowell rounding out the top-12 starters.
Looking to pull off the weekend sweep, Austin Cindric will start 13th and co-points leader Denny Hamlin will roll off in 14th.
Other big names further down the running order include Kyle Busch in 21st, Kevin Harvick in 25th, and Brad Keselowski in 31st.
The Verizon 200 at the Brickyard is scheduled for a 1:13 pm green flag Sunday on NBC.