KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Christopher Bell earned a second chance Saturday.
For the second straight NASCAR Cup Series Playoff race, Bell will start from the pole position after a blistering lap at 180.276 mph (29.954 seconds) in the final round of qualifying for Sunday’s Hollywood Casino 400 at Kansas Speedway (3 p.m. ET on USA, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).
Bell beat last Sunday’s Darlington winner Kyle Larson (179.826 mph) by 0.075 seconds to win his fourth Busch Light Pole Award of the season, his second at Kansas and the eighth of his career.
After starting from the top spot in last Sunday’s Cook Out Southern 500, Bell dealt with a litany of issues — from a slow first pit stop to hard contact with the outside wall to a five-car wreck that collected his No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota late in the race.
As a result of his 23rd-place finish in the Round of 16 opener, Bell came to Kansas 12th in the Cup standings, just one point ahead of Bubba Wallace in 13th. The pole position at the 1.5-mile speedway gives him a chance at redemption.
“That was a lot of fun,” Bell said. “Qualifying here is very intense. That’s certainly all we had. I felt very good in practice today in race trim. Week after week we come to the race track with cars that are capable of racing for wins …
“(Winning the pole) definitely takes a little bit of pressure off. If you’ve got a fast car, you can just go out there and run your pace. Clean air feels a lot better than being back in the pack.”
Martin Truex Jr. qualified third at 178.767 mph, followed by Chase Elliott (178.648 mph) and Tyler Reddick (178.495 mph).
Bell knew a sub-30-second lap was a possibility after seeing Ross Chastain turn the fastest circuit of the day in the first round of time trials in 29.925 seconds (180.451 mph). Chastain was sixth fastest in the final round at 178.324 mph.
But how does a driver eliminate the sorts of mistakes that cost him dearly in the first playoff race?
“Controlling what you can control,” Bell said. “I don’t know how many people, but (there’s) a handful of people on the team that just have to control what they can control, and I’m a big part of that equation.
“So last week, I made a mistake early in the race that ruined our finish and, yeah, that was me not doing my job, and I’m glad I get another opportunity this week to try.”
Michael McDowell, the only Ford driver to make the final round, will start seventh, with Austin Dillon eighth.
William Byron was ninth fastest in the final round, but he’ll start the race from the rear of the field after his crew made an unapproved adjustment to fix a suspension issue that surfaced during Saturday’s practice.
Wallace will take the green flag from the 10th position.
Playoff driver Kyle Busch will start from the rear of the field for the second straight race after a flat tire sent him into the outside wall during practice, necessitating repairs to his No. 8 Chevrolet, which did not make a qualifying run.
Ty Gibbs had a similar fate during practice and will start from the rear in a backup car.
Playoff drivers starting outside the top 10 include: Joey Logano 11th, Brad Keselowski 12th, Chris Buescher 13th, Denny Hamlin 14th, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. 16th, Ryan Blaney 17th and Kevin Harvick 20th.
Elliott and Dillon are the only drivers in the top 10 not competing for the drivers’ championship, though Elliott’s No. 9 Chevrolet is running for the owners’ title.
NASCAR Cup Series Qualifying — Hollywood Casino 400
Kansas City, Kansas
Saturday, September 9, 2023
1. (20) Christopher Bell (P), Toyota, 180.276 mph.
2. (5) Kyle Larson (P), Chevrolet, 179.826 mph.
3. (19) Martin Truex Jr. (P), Toyota, 178.767 mph.
4. (9) Chase Elliott (P), Chevrolet, 178.648 mph.
5. (45) Tyler Reddick (P), Toyota, 178.495 mph.
6. (1) Ross Chastain (P), Chevrolet, 178.324 mph.
7. (34) Michael McDowell (P), Ford, 178.271 mph.
8. (3) Austin Dillon, Chevrolet, 178.200 mph.
9. (24) William Byron (P), Chevrolet, 177.778 mph.
10. (23) Bubba Wallace (P), Toyota, 177.421 mph.
11. (22) Joey Logano (P), Ford, 0.000 mph.
12. (6) Brad Keselowski (P), Ford, 0.000 mph.
13. (17) Chris Buescher (P), Ford, 0.000 mph.
14. (11) Denny Hamlin (P), Toyota, 0.000 mph.
15. (99) Daniel Suarez, Chevrolet, 0.000 mph.
16. (47) Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (P), Chevrolet, 0.000 mph.
17. (12) Ryan Blaney (P), Ford, 0.000 mph.
18. (2) Austin Cindric, Ford, 0.000 mph.
19. (43) Erik Jones, Chevrolet, 0.000 mph.
20. (4) Kevin Harvick (P), Ford, 0.000 mph.
21. (42) Carson Hocevar(i), Chevrolet, 0.000 mph.
22. (16) AJ Allmendinger, Chevrolet, 0.000 mph.
23. (48) Alex Bowman, Chevrolet, 0.000 mph.
24. (7) Corey LaJoie, Chevrolet, 0.000 mph.
25. (10) Aric Almirola, Ford, 0.000 mph.
26. (14) Chase Briscoe, Ford, 0.000 mph.
27. (51) Cole Custer(i), Ford, 0.000 mph.
28. (41) Ryan Preece, Ford, 0.000 mph.
29. (21) Harrison Burton, Ford, 0.000 mph.
30. (31) Justin Haley, Chevrolet, 0.000 mph.
31. (15) JJ Yeley(i), Ford, 0.000 mph.
32. (38) Todd Gilliland, Ford, 0.000 mph.
33. (77) Ty Dillon, Chevrolet, 0.000 mph.
34. (78) Sheldon Creed(i), Chevrolet, 0.000 mph.
35. (8) Kyle Busch (P), Chevrolet, 0.000 mph.
36. (54) Ty Gibbs #, Toyota, 0.000 mph.