Title contender William Byron claims pole for Phoenix championship race

Title contender William Byron claims pole for Phoenix championship race

AVONDALE, Ariz. — Championship 4 driver William Byron won the pole for Sunday’s NASCAR Cup Series Championship race at Phoenix Raceway, keeping alive the possibility of preserving a remarkable streak.

In each of the three title races at the one-mile track in the Sonoran Desert, the pole winner has won the race and the championship—Chase Elliott in 2020, Kyle Larson in 2021 and Joey Logano last year.

MORE: Full Phoenix lineup | At-track photos

In the final round of Saturday’s time trials, Byron navigated the irregular-shaped track in 27.150 seconds (132.597 mph) to claim the top starting spot by 0.018 seconds over Martin Truex Jr. (132.509) mph, who was eliminated from the Playoffs last Sunday at Martinsville.

Making his final qualifying run as a full-time Cup Series driver, Kevin Harvick earned the third starting spot with a lap at 132.421 mph. Championship 4 contender Larson, Byron’s teammate at Hendrick Motorsports, qualified fourth at 132.397 mph.

“My team is really going to like this,” said Byron, who won his fourth Busch Light Pole Award of the season, his first at Phoenix and the 12th of his career—and earned the right to select advantageous Pit Stall No. 1.

“It’s going to be fun. All my family and friends are here, all my friends from high school. It’s going to be fun to hang out with them over tonight and enjoy. This is a great opportunity. I want to be here every year. It’s really fun to be a part of, and we must take advantage of it.”

Championship 4 drivers Christopher Bell and Ryan Blaney, who were the fastest two title contenders in Friday’s practice, failed to make the final round of qualifying and will start 13th and 15th, respectively.

“I needed about another tenth-and-a-half (of a second)—I don’t know,” said Blaney, who earned his spot in the final four with a victory last Sunday at Martinsville. “I mean, the car didn’t feel bad, just not as much speed as everyone else. I think our race car is good for (Sunday). So, we’ll see what happens.”

Larson can win a second championship on Sunday. For the other three Playoff drivers, a title would be the first. Larson was reluctant to put too much stock in qualifying speed.

“I think we all saw the practice sheets yesterday,” Larson said. “I think the 12 (Blaney) and the 20 (Bell) looked a step better than especially me and even William a little bit. Was honestly surprised that they didn’t make the final round there.

“So, no, I’m not counting out Blaney or Bell at all. It’s a long race, so they’ll overcome wherever they start. I’m sure they’ll drive through the field. The final four guys, most everybody respects or shows a lot of respect to on the racetrack and gives a lot of space.

“I think they’ll find their way to the front pretty quickly.”

Bubba Wallace claimed the fifth spot on the grid, followed by Denny Hamlin, Erik Jones, Ross Chastain, Chris Buescher and Tyler Reddick, who spun and slapped the Turn 4 wall during his run in the final round.

Note: Harvick ran the fastest lap of the day in the first round (27.067 seconds, 133.003 mph)… Cole Custer qualified 31st in relief of Brad Keselowski, who flew home to Charlotte to be with wife Paige, who went into labor with the couple’s third child. Keselowski is expected to return for Sunday’s race

Contributing: Staff reports