Christopher Bell Earns Pole, Sweeps Qualifying at Talladega

Christopher Bell was the fastest driver at Talladega on Saturday, earning pole for tomorrow's playoff race.
Christopher Bell, Joe Gibbs Racing
Christopher Bell, Joe Gibbs Racing

Bell flexed his Toyota muscle in the final round of qualifying with a speed of 180.591 mph to earn his fourth pole of the season, and his second here at this track. After being the most consistent driver in the opening round of the playoffs, Bell aims to find victory lane tomorrow to become the first playoff driver to win a race.

"We’re in the best spot to capitalize," Bell said. "We need to make up a lot of points over these next two races. Hopefully, we can maintain our track position. Really proud of everyone on this No. 20 team. They’ve done a really good job bringing fast race cars, week-in and week-out. We’re going to be after it hard. I’ll have to see if I can do my job and keep it up front."

Kyle Larson has just one top-five result in 34 combined superspeedway starts, but he will start alongside Bell on the front row tomorrow. Denny Hamlin starts third, directly behind his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate.

2022 YellaWood 500 at Talladega - Qualifying Results
Pos Driver Team Manufacturer
1Christopher BellJoe Gibbs RacingToyota
2Kyle LarsonHendrick MotorsportsChevrolet
3Denny HamlinJoe Gibbs RacingToyota
4Aric AlmirolaStewart Haas RacingFord
5Chase BriscoeStewart Haas RacingFord
6Ross ChastainTrackHouse RacingChevrolet
7Noah GragsonHendrick MotorsportsChevrolet
8Tyler ReddickRichard Childress RacingChevrolet
9William ByronHendrick MotorsportsChevrolet
10Ty Gibbs23XI RacingToyota
11Joey LoganoTeam PenskeFord
12Erik JonesPetty GMS MotorsportsChevrolet
13Daniel HemricKaulig RacingChevrolet
14Daniel SuarezTrackHouse RacingChevrolet
15Harrison BurtonWood Brothers RacingFord
16Chase ElliottHendrick MotorsportsChevrolet
17Austin CindricTeam PenskeFord
18Brad KeselowskiRFK RacingFord
19Ryan BlaneyTeam PenskeFord
20Austin DillonRichard Childress RacingChevrolet
21Justin HaleyKaulig RacingChevrolet
22Martin Truex JrJoe Gibbs RacingToyota
23Chris BuescherRFK RacingFord
24Kevin HarvickStewart Haas RacingFord
25Ricky Stenhouse JrJTG Daugherty RacingChevrolet
26Kyle BuschJoe Gibbs RacingToyota
27Bubba Wallace23XI RacingToyota
28Cole CusterStewart Haas RacingFord
29Michael McDowellFront Row MotorsportsFord
30Ty DillonPetty GMS MotorsportsChevrolet
31Justin AllgaierBeard MotorsportsChevrolet
32Corey LaJoieSpire MotorsportsChevrolet
33Landon CassillSpire MotorsportsChevrolet
34Todd GillilandFront Row MotorsportsFord
35BJ McLeodLive Fast MotorsportsFord
36JJ YeleyRick Ware RacingFord
37Cody WareRick Ware RacingFord

William Byron was third in the playoff standings after the race at Texas last week, but he comes into the weekend down in 10th place after NASCAR penalized him 25 points for wrecking Hamlin under caution. He was 17 points above the cut line, and is now eight points below it. Byron was also fined $50,000 for the incident, which was a violation of NASCAR's Member Code of Conduct.

"I think stage points are going to be even more crucial Sunday than they normally are in this race," Byron said. "With everyone trying to get every point they can, you don’t want to put yourself at risk of not finishing the race either just trying to get a stage point. It’s a fine balance for sure." Byron, who starts 9th, has three top-11 finishes in his last five starts at Talladega, including a runner-up result last year.

Hamlin prefers to get his revenge by celebrating in victory lane, something he has done twice at this track. The veteran had qualified on pole in three of the last four Talladega races. His 404 laps led at this track are further evidence that he knows how to get to the front, and stay there. After a pair of runner-up finishes to begin the playoffs, Hamlin hopes to get back to victory lane tomorrow.

Chase Elliott suffered a major blow last weekend at Texas. The championship leader was one of three drivers in that race to crash while leading. He went from sitting comfortably to a dire situation (11 points above the cut line) in the blink of an eye. He qualified 16th, has never finished inside the top-five here, and has just one top-ten result. Should he find trouble again tomorrow, he could be facing a must-win situation at the ROVAL.

Christopher Bell Earns Pole, Sweeps Qualifying at Talladega

Elliott believes his team has what it takes to right the ship. "It’s obviously not an ideal situation to be where we’re at, but it is what it is. We’ve been in similar situations in the past, so we know what we need to do these next two weeks to put ourselves in a good position to advance. I know we’re fully capable of getting the job done. We’ve proven it time and time again."

It has been a rough week for Hendrick Motorsports, with Byron’s penalty and Alex Bowman missing this race due to concussion-like symptoms after his crash at Texas. Bowman had finishes of 32nd and 29th in the last two races and sits at the bottom of the playoff standings, 26 points below the cut line. Noah Gragson is filling in this weekend, and qualified 7th in the No. 48 Chevrolet.

Despite being a three-time Talladega winner, Joey Logano is not a fan of superspeedway racing. "When you look at the way that people have finished up front in these superspeedways lately, they are the ones that are riding around in the back. Do you believe that you should be rewarded for not working? Because that’s what they’re doing. They’re riding around in the back and capitalizing on other people’s misfortune for racing up front trying to win. I don’t think it’s right. That’s not racing. I can’t get behind that."

With a series-leading 19 top-ten finishes at Talladega, Kevin Harvick has more experience in these types of races than anyone, and knows how daunting it can be. "Superspeedway racing is just a mentally demanding situation because of the constant looking in the mirror and looking around and trying to keep the car going as fast as it can go and being aggressive and pushing and shoving and doing all the things it takes. There’s just a lot that you have to process from a mental standpoint."

Another veteran, Kyle Busch, says the key to these types of races is to avoid the chaos. "The key is to somehow stay out of trouble, and it can be frustrating at times. If you can be a contender and stay in line on the bottom, you can make it a pretty easy and safe race. Normally, guys are not content doing that, so that’s when it starts to get crazy. It’s such a crapshoot that you never really know who is going to win, what’s going to happen, and where the wreck is going to come from."

Ross Chastain won the race here earlier this season, in what was a wild ending that had cars spinning and crashing as they crossed the finish line. The Trackhouse Racing driver only led one lap in that race, but it was the only one that mattered. Although it was his only top-ten finish in seven starts here, Chastain has finished every in every one of them. He is aiming to continue that streak tomorrow.

Christopher Bell Earns Pole, Sweeps Qualifying at Talladega

Oddly enough, the last two Cup races and the last two Xfinity series races at Talladega were all won by the driver who started 19th, which bodes well for Ryan Blaney. The pole sitter at Talladega has only won two times in the last 35 races here.

Coverage for the YellaWood 500 begins at 2:00 ET on NBC.

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