Bubba Wallace Captures First Career Pole at Michigan

Bubba Wallace led a strong Toyota contingent in qualifying at Michigan, earning his first career pole.
NASCAR at Michigan: Bubba Wallace, 23XI Racing
NASCAR at Michigan: Bubba Wallace, 23XI Racing

Toyota has established themselves as the top manufacturer this weekend after a dominant showing in today's qualifying session. Wallace led a trio of Camrys with a blazing lap of 37.755 seconds to earn his first career Cup pole. It is also the first pole for the 23XI Racing team, co-owned by Denny Hamlin and Michael Jordan.

"That was tough," Wallace said. "It took me five years to get my first pole! It’s a testament to everyone at 23XI, everybody on this No. 23 team, they’ve been doing a tremendous job all year long. We just haven’t had the finishes we deserve. I’m proud of everybody sticking through it, a lot of adversity on this team. We keep showing up ready to battle and that means a lot."

Bubba Wallace Captures First Career Pole at Michigan

"For us to come out here and get this pole, we knew we had speed from the tire test. That’s good when things are lining up. Now the real job is tomorrow. We know that’s a totally different ball game. Good starting spot for us but we kind of reset and get ready for tomorrow."

Christopher Bell will start alongside Wallace on the front row. The Joe Gibbs Racing driver had a moment at the end of his final run that possibly cost him the top spot. His teammate Kyle Busch qualified 3rd with Team Penske drivers Joey Logano and Austin Cindric rounding out the top five. Tyler Reddick will start 6th, as the highest-qualifying Chevrolet driver. Starting 7th will be Martin Truex Jr, followed by Kyle Larson, Hamlin, and Erik Jones completed the top-ten.

In addition to taking the top three spots, all six Toyota drivers qualified inside the top 11 today.

2022 Michigan FireKeepers Casino 400 - Qualifying Results
Pos Driver Team Manufacturer
1Bubba Wallace23XI RacingToyota
2Christopher BellJoe Gibbs RacingToyota
3Kyle BuschJoe Gibbs RacingToyota
4Joey LoganoTeam PenskeFord
5Austin CindricTeam PenskeFord
6Tyler ReddickRichard Childress RacingChevrolet
7Martin Truex JrJoe Gibbs RacingToyota
8Kyle LarsonHendrick MotorsportsChevrolet
9Denny HamlinJoe Gibbs RacingToyota
10Erik JonesPetty GMS MotorsportsChevrolet
11Ty Gibbs23XI RacingToyota
12Noah GragsonKaulig RacingChevrolet
13Chase ElliottHendrick MotorsportsChevrolet
14Michael McDowellFront Row MotorsportsFord
15Daniel SuarezTrackHouse RacingChevrolet
16Kevin HarvickStewart Haas RacingFord
17Cole CusterStewart Haas RacingFord
18Aric AlmirolaStewart Haas RacingFord
19Chris BuescherRFK RacingFord
20William ByronHendrick MotorsportsChevrolet
21Justin HaleyKaulig RacingChevrolet
22Ross ChastainTrackHouse RacingChevrolet
23Chase BriscoeStewart Haas RacingFord
24Ryan BlaneyTeam PenskeFord
25Ty DillonPetty GMS MotorsportsChevrolet
26Austin DillonRichard Childress RacingChevrolet
27Harrison BurtonWood Brothers RacingFord
28Ricky Stenhouse JrJTG Daugherty RacingChevrolet
29JJ YeleyRick Ware RacingFord
30Alex BowmanHendrick MotorsportsChevrolet
31Austin HillRichard Childress RacingChevrolet
32Corey LaJoieSpire MotorsportsChevrolet
33Brad KeselowskiRFK RacingFord
34Cody WareRick Ware RacingFord
35Josh BilickiSpire MotorsportsChevrolet
36BJ McLeodLive Fast MotorsportsFord
37Todd GillilandFront Row MotorsportsFord

The series has returned to high-speed oval racing after another chaotic finish on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course. It serves as a return to normalcy for many teams, and a possible life preserver for drivers like Kevin Harvick, Ryan Blaney, and Truex. These three are running out of time to punch their ticket to the playoffs, but two of them have seen success at this race track.

Blaney enters the weekend as the defending race winner, taking the checkered flag in a near photo finish. His 0.077 second margin of victory over William Byron last year was the closest in the 104 race history of the track. If he is able to go back-to-back tomorrow, he will guarantee himself a spot in the playoffs. He would also become only the 11th driver to ever win back-to-back races at Michigan. It will be a tall task for the Penske driver though, after qualifying 24th today.

Harvick, who qualified 16th, certainly knows the path to victory lane at Michigan. The Stewart Haas Racing driver has won here five times over the course of his career, leading 699 laps along the way. Four of those wins came in the last six races, which bodes well for him tomorrow. Although he has been running well in the majority of races this season, Harvick is riding a 65-race winless streak as he fights for one of the final two playoff spots.

Larson is also aiming to end a winless drought this weekend. Although it isn't as long as Harvick's, it is the longest dry spell during his time at Hendrick Motorsports. Larson has won three times at Michigan, but those victories all came while driving for Chip Ganassi. His three consecutive victories that began in 2016 were the last wins here for Chevrolet.

Chevrolet has won six out of the last seven races this season, thanks in large part to Chase Elliott and Reddick. The only Ford to find victory lane since Phoenix in March is Joey Logano. They have been strong at Michigan though, having won the last seven races here.

Hamlin is a two-time winner at Michigan, but he has not been to victory lane here since 2011. He has run well though, finishing 2nd, 6th, 2nd, and 5th in his last four starts here. The JGR driver is searching for a positive result after a rough two weekends where he was stripped of a race win at Pocono and roughed up on the road course at IMS.

Hamlin's teammate (for now) Kyle Busch has just one win at Michigan in 33 career starts. He has been strong here though, finishing 7th or better in each of the last seven Michigan races. While his contract status remains the same, there was some sense of optimism that spread throughout the garage last weekend. The two-time Cup champion stated that he was willing to take less money to remain in the No. 18 Toyota, but he has been open and honest regarding his future.

Bubba Wallace Captures First Career Pole at Michigan

"I don’t think money has ever been the objective or the issue," Kyle said. "Obviously, I know where the sport’s landscape is. I know what’s happening and I’ve accepted taking a smaller salary. I have told everybody that. I’m trying to see where all that lies. Anything is on the table. We’re talking 2023 options, we’re talking 2024 options. We’re talking long term. Everybody, everything. The white board is quite full."

"There’s a lot of factors that go into this. My first option, my first goal, my first step is to be with Joe Gibbs Racing and stay at Toyota and have nothing change. But that unicorn hasn’t fallen out of the sky for 20 million bucks or whatever it is. I’ve already said I’m willing to take concessions and race for under my market value and stay in the seat that I’ve made home for the last 15 years. If the musical chairs music stops, and I’m still standing and don’t have a seat, I’m screwed, so I have to make sure I continue to talk and evaluate each place, each situation to find something."

The only other active driver that has won at Michigan is Kyle's brother, Kurt Busch. The 23XI Racing has three wins and three poles here, with 500 laps led. That won't matter this weekend though, as Kurt misses his third consecutive race as he continues to recover from his concussion-like symptoms suffered in his crash at Pocono.

Ty Gibbs is back in the cockpit of the No. 45 Monster Energy Camry after finishing 16th and 17th in his first two career Cup starts at Pocono and Indianapolis. The young talent just barely missed advancing to the final round of qualifying and will start 11th tomorrow.

Richard Childress Racing is fielding three cars this weekend, as Austin Hill makes his Cup Series debut in the No. 33 Chevrolet. “Austin has shown talent in every series he’s raced in during his career, so I couldn’t be more excited to have him behind the wheel of a Cup car,” said team owner Richard Childress. Hill could be considered the favorite to replace Reddick in the No. 8 car in the near future.

Several drivers struggled on the 2-mile oval today, including Hendrick teammates William Byron and Alex Bowman, who qualified 20th and 30th. Ross Chastain was another Chevrolet driver that struggled, and will start 22nd tomorrow. Chase Briscoe starts behind him in 23rd and fellow Ford driver Brad Keselowski starts 33rd in his Roush Fenway Keselowski Mustang.

Truex desperately needs a win to lock himself into the playoffs, but he has never been to victory lane in 31 career starts at Michigan. The 2017 series champion has finished 2nd or 3rd nine times at Michigan, while leading 275 laps. The race win has simply eluded him at this place. That is something he hopes to change tomorrow with a solid starting spot.

Qualifying up front has proven to be key this season. The last six races have all been won by drivers starting inside the top-five. In fact, the last 12 races have all been won by a driver starting inside the top-ten. Five out of the last six races at Michigan have been won from a top-three starting spot.

With the starting lineup set, the only thing left to do is race. Coverage for the FireKeepers Casino 400 begins at 3 ET on USA Network.

Read More