KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) — Christopher Bell won the pole for the NASCAR Cup Series playoff race at Kansas Speedway on Sunday, putting himself in good position to wiggle off the playoff bubble and make next week’s cutoff a little less stressful.
Bell was the only driver among the 10 in the final round of qualifying to go over 180 mph, turning a lap of 180.276 for a comfortable margin over Kyle Larson, who locked up his place in the next round of the playoffs with a win last week at Darlington.
“That was a lot of fun,” said Bell, who rode the preferred high line along the wall at Kansas to his second straight pole and fourth of the season. “Qualifying here is very intense. That’s certainly all we had.”
Bell followed his pole run at Darlington with a mistake during the race and finished 23rd. That left him just one point ahead of Bubba Wallace for 12th place in points with next week’s race at Bristol the cutoff for the top 12 drivers to advance.
“There’s a handful of people on the team that just have to control what they can control and I’m a big part of that equation,” Bell said. “Last week I made a mistake early in the race that ruined our finish, and that was me not doing my job.
“I’m glad I get another opportunity this week to control what I can control and get the best finish out of it.”
Larson, who finished second to Denny Hamlin in the spring race at Kansas, will start alongside the No. 20 Toyota on the front row. Fellow playoff contender Martin Truex Jr. qualified third with Chase Elliott, who did not make the playoffs, fourth and Tyler Reddick fifth.
“You want to build on good finishes and we haven’t had two in a row for a long time,” Larson said. “So that’s kind of my goal going into really the whole playoffs, is just to be consistently up front and finishing right.”
William Bryon, who is second in points, qualified ninth to earn a good pit selection, but he thought he would have to start at the back after breaking a suspension part during a 20-minute practice session. NASCAR ruled later that it was a part problem rather than a team issue and gave Byron his qualifying spot on the grid.
There is still another playoff contender starting at the rear after Kyle Busch blew a tire in practice, sending him slapping along the outside wall. The Chevrolet sustained heavy enough damage that Busch wasn’t able to make a qualifying run.
“Just like every other weekend — always put in a hole, always put behind, always have to dig ourselves out,” Busch said. “Hate it for the guys. The car was really good here. We were just going to fine-tune some things to get ready for qualifying and here we are, starting last again. It just never changes.”
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