Christopher Bell Leads Trio of Toyotas in Playoff Opener Qualifying at Darlington

Leading a trio of Toyota Camrys is Christopher Bell with his seventh career NASCAR Cup Series pole. His pace of 169.193 mph (29.065 seconds) in the second round was good enough to be the first car to take the green flag on Sunday’s Cook Out Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway.

“It definitely feels good,” stated a confident Bell. “Darlington is a place that’s notoriously hard to pass, so starting up front is a really big deal. But, with 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 race track that we’re at. Very long time tomorrow so starting position has no indication of where we’re going to finish, but we certainly have the speed to compete and hopefully we can keep it up front all day.”

The other two Toyota Racing drivers to edge into the final round of qualifying was fellow Joe Gibbs Racing driver Denny Hamlin (second) and Tyler Reddick (third) of 23XI Racing. The three competitors beat a horde of Ford Mustangs who all claimed the remaining top 10 positions, led by Team Penske’s Ryan Blaney (fourth).

“That’s not a bad starting spot,” Blaney shared after being the fastest Ford. “It’s nice to start in the top five and starting fourth. That’s really good. I’m proud of the effort today and now it’s just a matter of staying in it. Five hundred miles is a long race. It’s a super long race and you can make mistakes real easy, so it’s just a matter of focusing in on tomorrow. It was a good effort today we just have to keep improving.”

Brad Keselowski – hot off a monumental regular season finale at Daytona International Speedway with a 1-2 team finish with Chris Buescher’s third victory of the 2023 season – will start the race fifth (168.227 mph / 29.232 seconds).

Joey Logano, Kevin Harvick, Chris Buescher, Michael McDowell and Aric Almirola completed the top 10. Almirola was the highest non-Playoff contender in Saturday’s qualifying session.

Kyle Busch was the highest Chevrolet in 11th, narrowly missing the final round of qualifying. Chase Elliott, competing for the owner’s championship for his No. 9 Hendrick Motorsports machine, will start 13th. The spring Darlington race winner, William Byron, will start back in 23rd.

Other Playoff drivers will start deeper in the field: Kyle Larson (18th), Bubba Wallace (19th), Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (25th), Ross Chastain (27th) and regular season champion Martin Truex Jr (31st), last of the Playoff drivers.

Notable drivers include Carson Hocevar, who will start his second career Cup race from an impressive 15th position. Ryan Preece will start from the 34th spot. He was cleared to race from doctors after his violent wreck last weekend at Daytona.

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