MARTINSVILLE, Va. — Likely needing a victory in Sunday‘s Xfinity 500 to qualify for the NASCAR Cup Series Championship 4, Martin Truex Jr. took the first step in the right direction on Saturday, winning the pole position for the Round of 8 elimination race (2 p.m. ET, NBC, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio, NBC Sports App).
Truex turned a lap in 20.112 seconds (94.153 mph) in the final round of time trials to edge Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Ty Gibbs (94.115 mph) for the top starting spot by 0.008 seconds. The Busch Light Pole Award was Truex‘s third of the season, his second at Martinsville and the 23rd of his career.
Truex has won three of the last eight races at the 0.526-mile short track but none since the introduction of NASCAR‘s Next Gen race car in 2022.
“The first round I wasn‘t really sure how hard to go and how hard to push it or what the balance was going to be like,” said Truex, who nevertheless posted the fastest lap of the day in Round 1 (20.018 seconds). “The last time we ran here, the tires were different—a lot was different.
“Our car was pretty free in practice, and I was a little concerned about that, but the guys made good adjustments, and the car was really close. Round 2, we just made a small adjustment and made the car more comfortable. It gave me a little more confidence on throttle, and that‘s where the time was.”
The margin between Gibbs and third-place qualifier Chase Briscoe (94.106 mph ) was even tighter than the gap between first and second—0.002 seconds. Denny Hamlin qualified fourth at 94.055 mph to give JGR three of the top four starting positions.
Like Truex, Hamlin almost certainly needs a victory on Sunday to advance to the Championship 4. Gibbs and Briscoe did not qualify for the playoffs this season.
Kyle Larson and Christopher Bell, already locked into the title race with their respective victories at Las Vegas and Homestead, will start fifth and seventh, respectively, with non-playoff driver Bubba Wallace taking the sixth position on the grid.
In his final Cup season, Kevin Harvick will start his final Martinsville race from the eighth position, followed by fellow Ford drivers Ryan Preece and Brad Keselowski. The starting field includes five Toyotas, four Fords and one Chevrolet (Larson).
In the first round of Group A qualifying, three playoff drivers made the possibility of advancement to the Championship 4 relatively more difficult. Tyler Reddick, fifth in the standings and 10 points below the current cut line for Championship 4, spun in Turn 4 on his second qualifying lap and will start 19th.
Chris Buescher, needing a victory to advance, will start one position ahead of Reddick. William Byron, with a 30-point edge over Reddick and likely to earn a Championship 4 spot on points, qualified 16th.
“We just can‘t qualify here,” lamented Byron. “Chattered tires—last year it was front, this year it‘s rear. Just can‘t hit it, weather changes… not happy about qualifying, just the way we‘ve been right on the edge of the bubble here the last few times.
“But I think our race car in race trim is honestly pretty good, so we‘ve just got to focus on that now. We can‘t change qualifying…but we‘ll fight from there.”
In Group B, Ryan Blaney, fourth in the standings and trailing Byron by 20 points, will start 11th.
Hamlin fastest in Martinsville practice
Denny Hamlin topped the leaderboard in Saturday’s NASCAR Cup Series practice at Martinsville Speedway.
Hamlin drove the No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota straight to the top of the single-lap speed chart with a 93.929 mph. Hamlin owns five wins at the 0.526-mile paperclip, which is the most among current drivers.
MORE: Practice results | At-track photos
Track conditions were favorable for Group A as right behind Hamlin was Corey Lajoie in the No. 7 Spire Motorsports Chevrolet who punched in a 93.747 mph.
William Byron was third fastest overall with a speed of 93.696 mph in the No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet. Byron has a 30-point cushion in the playoff standings with a 5.5-average finish in the playoffs this year.
Rookie driver Ty Gibbs continues to impress as he had another strong showing practice going fourth fastest. Austin Cindric rounded out the top five in Saturday’s practice
Reddick who is 10 points below the elimination line showed great pace in practice. Since joining 23XI racing, Reddick has improved his short-track skills and walked away eighth fastest overall and was one of only three playoff drivers to crack the top 10 in practice.