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Elliott sets track record to win Food City 500 pole

Jeff Birchfield • Apr 5, 2019 at 8:46 PM

BRISTOL — Chase Elliott, NASCAR’s Most Popular Driver, was NASCAR’s fastest driver Friday evening at Bristol Motor Speedway.

Elliott turned a track-record lap of 14.568 seconds (131.713 mph) in his No. 9 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet to win the pole for the Food City 500. His fast lap broke the previous track record of 131.668 mph set by Denny Hamlin in August 2016.

It was his first pole at the .533-mile oval and his fifth career pole in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series. Elliott, who was voted Most Popular Driver by the fans last season, pointed out it was his first not on a restrictor-plate track.

“I’ve been wanting a pole outside of Daytona and Talladega for quite some time,” he said. “I felt like I was able to deliver it to my team who have deserved on more than one occasion. I had a fast NAPA Chevy.

“I had a solid lap that last session. I felt Ryan (Blaney) threw me a bone when he had a pretty good lap going. To get the No. 1 pit box here is probably as important as any track. The car has pace and I think we have given ourselves a chance (to win the race).”

Elliott edged his teammate William Byron in the No. 24 Chevrolet at 14.606 seconds at 131.371. Byron said the difference in the laps was a little different line that Elliott took around the high-banked track.

“I think Chase did a couple of different things line wise,” Byron said. “We will go back and look at those things, but ultimately you’re hanging on and going just as fast as you can in qualifying.”

Ryan Blaney was third fastest at 14.627 seconds and 131.057 mph in the No. 12 Team Penske Ford. He led the previous qualifying session, but said he was too aggressive on his final attempt.

“I got greedy (going) into (turn) 3 and missed it and I got loose out of it,” he said. “We lost it by just a little bit for how bad I missed it. I messed up so bad the first lap in the last round that I had to run more and it just wasn’t as good.”

Joe Gibbs Racing teammates Erik Jones, in the No. 20 Toyota, and Denny Hamlin, the most recent winner in the Cup Series in the No. 11 Toyota, rounded out the top five.

The Fords of Aric Almirola, defending series champion Joey Logano, Clint Bowyer and Paul Menard took the next four spots, while seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson in the No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet was the 10th-place qualifier.

NOT A GOOD DAY FOR THE BUSCH BROTHERS

Qualifying day for the Food City 500 was named Bush’s Beans Pole Day, but it wasn’t a good day for the Busch brothers.

Defending Food City race champion Kyle Busch in the No. 18 Toyota qualified 17th. He felt his car didn’t mesh with the PJ1 compound laid on the bottom groove of the turns.

“I thought it faded a ton in that qualifying session unless my car was really loose,” he said about the track grip. “There’s grip and then there’s no much grip.”

His older brother, Kurt, was similarly frustrated and didn’t want to be in the media center after a 27th-place effort.

“The car was loose. What else do you want me to say?” he said to the assembled reporters.

OTHER NOTABLES

Two-time Bristol winners Brad Keselowski and Kevin Harvick qualified 12th and 13th, respectively. Alex Bowman, in the No. 88 Chevrolet, was 14th, followed by Austin Dillon in the No. 3 Chevrolet.

Kyle Larson, runner-up at the last two Bristol Cup races, qualified 16th, and Bubba Wallace was 28th in the No. 43 Richard Petty Motorsports car.

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