NASCAR Cup Series
Starting Lineup: NASCAR Cup Series Championship Race at Phoenix
Nov 4, 2023
William Byron will start from the pole position in the Hendrick Motorsports No. 24 Axalta Chevrolet Camaro ZL1. With the pole also comes the spoil of having the first pit stall.
William Byron already seemed confident and bubbly through Championship 4 Media Day on Thursday, and that confidence was justified in Saturday's qualifying session for the NASCAR Cup Series Championship Race.
With a blazingly fast lap time of 27.150 sec. (132.597 mph), Byron scored the pole position for Sunday's race at Phoenix Raceway.
The pole marks the fourth of the season for the 25-year-old Byron, and it's possibly the most important one of the year for the driver and his No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports team.
The reason it's such a big deal is that the pole comes with the added bonus of the first pit stall, a distinct advantage. It's not a coincidence that all three NASCAR Cup Series champions that have been crowned, since the finale moved to Phoenix, have earned the pole and pitted from the first pit stall on pit road.
While Byron flashed decent speed on Friday evening, the driver says that he relied heavily on resources within the Chevrolet camp, including RCR, to secure the pole position.
“I think we were right there in the mix. We definitely needed to connect our corner a little bit better and just kind of get our overall balance a little bit closer. Felt like we leaned heavily on some of the Chevy teammates, so thanks to Kyle Busch and RCR for some of the changes they made, also the 1 car,” Byron said. “Feel like we have something to race with.”
Byron was the fastest of the Championship 4 contenders in qualifying, but he won't have a lot of breathing room when the race goes green, as his Hendrick Motorsports teammate Kyle Larson will be right there in Row 2. Larson will start from the fourth starting spot.
The speed in Saturday’s qualifying session was a welcomed sight for Larson, who says he felt lost and confused after being the slowest Playoff contender in Friday’s practice session.
“Yeah, I left last night just basically being more confused I think than had I just not practiced at all,” Larson explained. “Yeah, that was interesting and makes the weekend kind of more difficult. I guess that part of it's good.”
Conversely, after Friday's practice session, many expected Ryan Blaney and Christopher Bell to be the top of the speed charts among the Championship contenders. That did not come to fruition, but the other two championship contenders will start from inside the top-15.
Bell will roll from the grid in the 13th starting spot, and Blaney will start from the 15th position.
While they're starting deeper in the field, Larson says he's not sleeping on the chances of his competitors.
"I'm not counting out Blaney or Bell at all," Larson stated. "It's a long race, so they'll overcome wherever they start. I'm sure they'll drive through the field. The Final 4 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."
In his post-qualifying press conference, Bell didn’t look like a guy disappointed to be starting in the 13th position. Turns out, he had a good reason for still looking chipper.
“I'm probably more optimistic because I've never won a race from the pole, so,” Bell quipped. “Obviously the pit stall is a great advantage, and we gave it to William. Congratulations on that (smiling). Aside from that, I think the starting position is less of a factor just because it's 312 laps.”
Blaney, like Bell, is confident that starting further back won’t be an issue, as he expects non Championship contenders to play nice on Sunday.
“Yeah, I mean, you're still racing everybody, right? I think everyone understands, though, you're pretty respectful of the four guys that are racing for it, racing for the championship, right,” Blaney questioned.
On a traditional race weekend, this would mean horrible pit selection for Blaney and Bell, but special rules for the Championship race dictate that the four Championship contenders get the first four pit selections.
While the championship battle is front of mind, there is still an overall race going on as well, which all 36 of the cars in the event on Sunday can win.
Martin Truex Jr. clocked in just 0.018 sec. off the speed of Byron, and will start from the second position in the No. 19 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota Camry.
Kevin Harvick, who will run his final NASCAR Cup Series event this weekend, starts from the third position. Harvick was actually the fastest driver in his group in the opening round of qualifying.
Larson, as mentioned previously, will start fourth, and he'll be followed by Bubba Wallace and Denny Hamlin, who will make up Row 3.
Erik Jones, Ross Chastain, Chris Buescher, and Tyler Reddick rounded out the top-10 starters for the Championship Race.
Reddick suffered issues during his qualifying run, as he scrubbed the outside wall really heavily. Still, he will be credited with the 10th starting spot. Depending on repairs, he may have to drop to the rear of the field for the start of the race.
Photo Credit: Andrew Coppley/HHP for Chevy Racing