FORT WORTH, Texas — Bubba Wallace turned in a dramatic final lap of NASCAR Cup Series qualifying at Texas Motor Speedway on Saturday to claim the pole position for Sunday‘s Autotrader EchoPark Automotive 400 (3:30 p.m. ET, USA Network, PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio, NBC Sports App).
Wallace‘s qualifying lap of 188.337 mph in the No. 23 23XI Racing Toyota around the 1.5-mile Fort Worth high banks just edged the hometown favorite, Texas native Chris Buescher‘s No. 17 Roush Fenway Keselowski Racing Ford by a slight .039 seconds. It‘s Wallace‘s first pole position of the season and only the second career pole for the 29-year-old Mobile, Ala., native — who is one of 12 NASCAR Cup Series Playoff-eligible drivers in this opening race of the second three-race round of the elimination-style format.
Wallace‘s fast lap stopped Joe Gibbs Racing driver Christopher Bell‘s streak of pole positions at three. Bell — who is also championship-eligible — swept the pole positions in the entire opening round of the playoffs and will start ninth on Sunday.
Buescher‘s teammate and team co-owner, Brad Keselowski — also a Playoff contender — was third fastest, followed by rookie Joe Gibbs Racing driver Ty Gibbs and Trackhouse Racing‘s Ross Chastain — another playoff driver.
Kaulig Racing‘s AJ Allmendinger, Richard Childress Racing‘s Kyle Busch, Chastain‘s Trackhouse teammate Daniel Suárez, Bell and JGR‘s Denny Hamlin rounded out the top 10 in qualifying to set the 36-car field. Busch, Chastain, Bell and Hamlin are all playoff contenders, too.
In eight series starts at Texas, Wallace has only a single top-10 finish — eighth place coming in his debut on the track in 2018. His only other top 20 (14th) came in the summer of 2020.
“I held it wide open,‘‘ Wallace said with a smile, adding, “It‘s all about the people at 23XI, the 23 team and the 45 car as well. We keep pushing each other to be better and better, and it‘s paying off. I‘m proud of the effort, but it‘s nice for a moment, tomorrow is the real test.
“Was I expecting it? I don‘t know. In qualifying I tend to try too hard and overthink things. I need to stop that and just go out and do. So that was a good surprise.”
Hendrick Motorsports‘ William Byron and regular season champion, JGR‘s Martin Truex Jr. — who are tied atop the standings coming into Texas — qualified 18th and 16th, respectively. Kyle Larson, who is ranked third in the championship standings, just missed advancing to the final qualifying session and will start 11th.
Other playoff drivers, Wallace‘s teammate Tyler Reddick and Team Penske‘s Ryan Blaney will start 15th and 23rd, respectively.
Two drivers found trouble in the 1.5-mile track’s second turn on their up-to-speed lap before their qualifying attempt. Aric Almirola scrubbed the outside retaining wall but continued onward in his No. 10 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. slid out of the low groove and looped his No. 47 JTG Daugherty Chevrolet but managed to avoid contact.
McDowell tops Texas practice leaderboard
Michael McDowell set the pace in Saturday’s NASCAR Cup Series practice at Texas Motor Speedway.
McDowell pushed the No. 34 Front Row Motorsports Ford to a best lap of 185.771 mph, leading the opening 20-minute group session. His clocking was just one-thousandth faster than the second-fastest lap posted by Joey Logano in the No. 22 Team Penske Ford.
Kyle Busch was fastest among the 12 remaining playoff-eligible drivers, ranking third at 185.593 mph in the No. 8 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet. Aric Almirola was fourth-fastest, with Kyle Larson — who topped the consecutive 10-lap average chart — completing the top five.
Christopher Bell made a prolonged slide through Turn 2 in the first group of practice but managed to avoid contact with his No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota. He returned to pit road and finished the session with the 23rd fastest speed overall.
Contributing: Staff reports