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Christopher Bell Earns Fifth Pole Award of 2023 at Bristol Motor Speedway

The Joe Gibbs Racing driver has now qualified on the pole for each of the three opening races of the NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs.


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Christopher Bell has had one fast Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota throughout the first round of the NASCAR Playoffs and that is evident in his feat of sweeping the pole position at each of the three races. Bell earned his fifth pole award of the 2023 NASCAR Cup Series season and third-consecutive first-place starting position with a lap of 15.109 in the final round of qualifying.

Bell was the fastest car in Group A in Round 1 and was able to back it up when it mattered most. The driver of the No. 20 JGR Toyota has poles at Auto Club Speedway, New Hampshire Motor Speedway, Darlington Raceway, Kansas Speedway and now Bristol.

"Having a good starting spot is really, really, really important, especially at a short track like Bristol," Bell said. "The PJ1 being down, it will be really fast around the bottom to start the race. We put ourselves in good position and I'm very, very proud of the Camrys this No. 20 group have been able to bring to the races since we started the Playoffs. They're doing an amazing job. I'm excited to have another opportunity to start on the front and hopefully have a great race tomorrow."

It will be an all-JGR front row on Saturday night, as Denny Hamlin was able to put the No. 11 Toyota second in the final round of qualifying with a lap of 15.117 seconds.

Hendrick Motorsports’ William Byron will start third with a lap of 15,187 seconds, followed by Michael McDowell, Martin Truex Jr., Brad Keselowski, Chase Elliott, Ty Gibbs, Bubba Wallace and Corey LaJoie.

Related: Starting Lineup: NASCAR Cup Series Bass Pro Shops Night Race at Bristol

McDowell was the slowest of the Playoff drivers in Friday’s practice session, but when qualifying rolled around the No. 34 Front Row Motorsports Ford jumped up the leaderboard in Group B with a quick lap of 15.189. The Indianapolis Road Course winner backed it up in the final round of qualifying with a lap of 15.202, which was good enough for the third position.

Despite posting a slow time in practice, McDowell knew he had a fast car and would have the commitment needed to contend for the pole and the win on Saturday, which he called a “must-win” situation.

Similarly, Keselowski posted the 28th-fastest lap of practice in the No. 6 RFK Racing Ford, but posted the one of the fastest laps of Group B Round 1 with a lap of 15.106 seconds. In the final round, Keselowski was able to post the sixth-fastest lap.

Only two Playoff drivers, Bell and Wallace, advanced out of Group A in qualifying, while Buescher, Harvick, Chastain, Logano and Larson could not advance. In Group B, all five drivers to advance were Playoff drivers.

While the top 10 consisted of seven Playoff drivers, nine other drivers hoping to avoid elimination on Saturday night got off to a rocky start by qualifying outside the top 10.

Ryan Blaney and Tyler Reddick were the first Playoff drivers on the outside looking in, qualifying 11th and 12th respectively. Kyle Busch will roll off 15th, while defending race winner Chris Buescher will start 20th, followed by Kevin Harvick in 21st, Ross Chastain in 23rd, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. in 25th, Joey Logano in 28th and Kyle Larson will start shotgun on the field in 36th.

For Larson, the driver of the No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet nearly wrecked twice on his qualifying lap and was the slowest of the qualifiers in Group A.

“I wanted to get some of it, I felt a little bit too tight on my up-to-speed lap and I thought that was because my left side (tires) touched the paint and I just got too greedy,” he said. “Obviously, we’ll start last. Hopefully (the groove) widens out and we’ll have some options. I felt really sensitive in traffic when I was behind (Chastain) so we’ll see. I think it all just really depends on if the track widens out.”

Saturday’s NASCAR Cup Series Bass Pro Shops Bristol Night Race is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. ET on USA, PRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio.

Photo courtesy Jonathan McCoy, Racing America

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