Upcoming Events on

RATV white
Full Schedule

Christopher Bell to Begin 2023 NASCAR Cup Playoffs From Pole at Darlington

The driver of the No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota Camry will start the Cook Out Southern 500 from the pole position. His teammate Denny Hamlin will start alongside on the front row.


hero image for Christopher Bell to Begin 2023 NASCAR Cup Playoffs From Pole at Darlington

Christopher Bell just finds a way to kick things into another gear when the NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs are here. The driver, who scored two clutch victories with his back against the wall to advance to the 2022 Championship 4, will begin his 2023 championship quest from the pole in Sunday's Cook Out Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway.

RELATED: NASCAR Cup Series Cook Out Southern 500 Starting Lineup

The 28-year-old racer is proud to score the pole, and is excited about his prospects of starting up front at one of the hardest tracks to execute a pass on the schedule.

"Yeah, it definitely feels good. Darlington is a place that is notoriously hard to pass, so starting up front is a really big deal," Bell explained. "But that being said, it's an extremely long race. The Southern 500 is, in my opinion, probably harder than the Coca-Cola 600 just because of the track we're at. Very long time tomorrow, so starting position has no indication of where we'll finish, but we certainly have the speed to compete, and hopefully we'll be there all day."

Bell turned a lap time of 29.065 sec. (169.193 mph) in the second round of Saturday's NASCAR Cup Series qualifying session at the Track Too Tough to Tame, which narrowly edged out his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate, Denny Hamlin, for the pole. Bell's lap was 0.026 sec. faster than the lap recorded by Hamlin.

This pole-winning run will mark the third Busch Light Pole Award of the 2023 campaign for Bell, and it is the driver's seventh pole in the last two seasons.

While Bell was a qualifying machine last season, he struggled to do much in qualifying at the beginning of the 2023 campaign. However, he says that his team made a concerted effort to improve in qualifying, and it has paid massive dividends in the form of three poles in the last eight races.

"We always try to qualify good. I'll be honest, last year, we qualified a lot better than what we were doing at the beginning of this year. Definitely, after we got through the first five to eight races of this year, we were wondering what happened, right? Last year, we made the final round a lot -- the majority of the time. And then at the beginning of this year, we were really struggling.

"My team Adam Stevens, Tyler, William my engineers have put a lot of emphasis on qualifying the last couple of months, and it's really shown."

Bell has gained a significant mental edge by scoring the pole for Sunday's race, which opens the 2023 NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs. But he can't rest on his laurels once the race goes green, as he has a swarm of hungry Playoff drivers right behind him. Including Bell, a total of 10 Playoff drivers will start from the top 11 starting positions in Sunday's race.

Behind the JGR duo of Bell and Hamlin on Row 1 will be Tyler Reddick and Ryan Blaney in Row 2.

Blaney, who drives the No. 12 Team Penske Ford Mustang, is back after it following a scary head-on crash in Turn 4 at Daytona International Speedway a week ago.

Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano, Kevin Harvick, Chris Buescher, and Michael McDowell will roll from the grid in fifth through ninth. Aric Almirola was the lone non-Playoff driver who secured a top-10 starting spot in 10th.

Kyle Busch, who scrubbed the wall in practice earlier in the day, will start from the 11th position in the No. 8 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet Camaro ZL1. Busch is competing in the Playoffs in his first year with RCR after departing Joe Gibbs Racing following the 2022 season.

The remainder of the Playoff drivers are scattered through the mid-to-back half of the field. Here are the rest of the Playoff drivers and where they will start Sunday's race: Kyle Larson (18th), Bubba Wallace (19th), William Byron (23rd), Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (25th), Ross Chastain (27th), and Martin Truex Jr. (31st).

Ryan Preece, who returned to the track this week following a wild flip, where he barrel rolled roughly 12 times down the backstretch in the closing laps of last Saturday's Coke Zero Sugar 400 at Daytona, will start the race from the 34th position. Preece met with the media on Saturday, where he revealed that he has eyes that are blood-red, and he has extensive bruising around his eyes following the wicked crash.

Preece insists that he is suffering no ill-effects from the crash, and that he has no vision issues or concussion symptoms, which is what led to him being back in the No. 41 Stewart-Haas Racing machine this weekend.

Sunday's NASCAR Cup Series Cook Out Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway is set for 6:00 PM ET. The race will be televised on USA Network. The Motor Racing Network (MRN), and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio will provide the radio broadcast of the event.

Photo Credit: David Rosenblum, LAT Images, Courtesy of Toyota Racing

RA Icon


Sign-up for our free NASCAR & Grassroots racing newsletter...