MARTINSVILLE, Va. (AP) — Ryan Preece put his No. 41 Ford on pole for Sunday’s Cup Series race at Martinsville Speedway, capping a strong qualifying day for Stewart-Haas Racing.
All four SHR cars qualified in the top seven on Saturday.
Daniel Suarez and Preece’s teammate Aric Almirola tied on points for the best qualifying lap before Preece took the half-mile on the final lap, bottom of the top 10 riders, tearing through the paperclip-shaped circuit at 150mph, beating the effort of 94,298 shared by Suarez and Almirola.
Since Saurez’s team has the lead over Almirola in car owner points, he starts second ahead of Almirola in third place.
Chase Briscoe, also of SHR, qualified fourth, followed by Martin Truex Jr. Tyler Reddick starts sixth and SHR’s Kevin Harvick seventh, with William Byron, Bubba Wallace and Chris Buescher rounding out the top 10.
Qualifying didn’t go so well for fan favorite Chase Elliott, who is returning after a six-week absence after a broken leg in a snowboarding accident in Colorado. He will start 24th after clipping the wall in his second qualifying round.
Preece has started no higher than eighth place and finished no better than 10th place this season. He said he felt he and his SHR teammates had a strong chance of winning on Sunday.
“You see how important track position is these days and whether you’re in control of the race or track position, you can’t give it up because it’s so, so difficult to overtake,” said Preece. “From the company’s point of view, this certainly makes us all very optimistic for Sunday. We can be smart and we can all have good days. And I think it shows that our short track program is really good.”
Briscoe added: “A really good start to the weekend for the company as a whole, to have all four cars in the top 10 is something we haven’t been able to say for a long time. We know we have to capitalize on the short distances and I think that’s a great start to the weekend.”
32-year-old Preece won his first modified race in Martinsville, so he’s comfortable here.
“It’s a place that suits my style,” Preece said.
The only other time Preece started on pole was in the 2020 Toyota 500 at Darlington Raceway. But that was due to a field inversion based on the previous week’s results.
Elliott’s return to racing did not get off to a good start. He hasn’t raced since his second place finish at Fontana on February 26th.
“It actually felt pretty good,” Elliott said. “I had a miserable qualifying lap, but I can’t blame my leg for that. I had a pretty good last one and then messed it up.”
He then quipped, “Judging by practice, it’s going to be a lot of fun starting at the back.”
NASCAR points leader Christopher Bell, who won the short track race at Bristol Motor Speedway last week, will start 22nd.
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