MARTINSVILLE, Va. — On his final lap — and qualifying lap — Ryan Preece clinched his first pole position in the NASCAR Cup with a lap of 94.779 mph in his #41 SHR Ford at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway Saturday Series.
The 32-year-old Connecticut driver became the 14th driver to achieve his maiden pole position at the 0.526-mile Virginia circuit. He will start alongside Trackhouse Racing’s Daniel Suarez on the front row for Sunday’s NOCO 400 (3pm ET, FS1, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).
Suarez and Preece’s SHR teammate Aric Almirola set the exact same lap time – to within a thousandth of a second (20.081). But Suarez started on the front row due to team points.
“I fought easily on the first lap,” said Preece with a smile, adding, “It’s a pole, not a race.
“I think from a business perspective that makes us all very optimistic about tomorrow and we can just be smart and have good days. It definitely shows that our short track program is really good and I know our superspeedway program has been extremely good as well and we will continue to work on that.”
Notably, Preece has won a pole in the NASCAR Xfinity Series and the NASCAR Truck Series – and he has won both races (Iowa 2017, Nashville 2022).
“Hopefully I can do a good job and keep those stats going.”
Almirola will start on the second row alongside his Stewart-Haas teammate Chase Briscoe – all four SHR cars made the final qualifying lap.
Joe Gibbs Racing’s Martin Truex Jr. and 23XI Racing’s Tyler Reddick will start on the third row, followed by SHR’s Kevin Harvick and defending champion William Byron of Hendrick Motorsports. 23XI Racing’s Bubba Wallace and Roush Fenway Keselowski Racing’s Chris Buescher round out the top 10.
As with Stewart-Haas, the 23XI Racing team beat a thousand in qualifying and pushed both cars into the final round.
2020 NASCAR Cup Series Champion Chase Elliott will exit 24th in his first race after injury. The former Martinsville winner broke his leg six weeks ago and will mark his return to the seat of the No. 9 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet this weekend.
“Felt pretty good but terrible qualifying round and I can’t really blame my leg for that,” said Elliott. “I had a pretty good first lap and then really messed up into (turn) two on the second. Judging from practice it will be a lot of fun starting at the back, looking forward to that in the old NAPA Chevy.”
Speaking of its comfort, Elliott said, “I feel good in the car. Throughout my practice run I’ve felt good and once you get out on the track and focus on the little things you have to do in your car a lot of that goes away so that’s a good thing. My qualifying lap wasn’t because of that, just a poor performance.”
Current NASCAR Cup Series Championship leader Christopher Bell will exit 22nd in the No. 20 JGR Toyota. His teammate Ty Gibbs was the fastest rookie and qualified 12th in the No. 54 JGR Toyota.
– Follow Elliott’s return
Elliott’s rivals say that while they’re happy to have the sport’s most popular rider back to fix a broken leg after a six-week absence, they also expect it will be a real test physically for the 27-year-old former champion.
One of the riders who spoke with Elliott during his recovery understands the challenges particularly well. Veteran Kyle Busch broke his leg in a crash while racing the 2015 Xfinity Series at Daytona International Speedway – the day before the Daytona 500.
Busch suffered a fracture in his right leg and left foot. He missed the first 11 races of the season, but still came back, winning five races and his first NASCAR Cup Series championship.
“We just talked a bit about how I experienced my injury and how my things were,” Busch said on Saturday before qualifying. “Everyone’s injuries are different, but my leg injury was different than his leg injury. It was actually more like my foot where I had plates and screws in my foot.
“It wasn’t always the easiest thing to get through a left footed race and all that stuff. His is more knee and joint related. If he runs the whole race he will be sore afterwards. It’s just not easy to jump right back in and get started. Even in my fifth week when I won in Sonoma (road racing) I couldn’t walk afterwards, it hurt so much.
“Welcome him anyway. It’s great to have him back. I think a lot of fans missed him and want to see him back in the car.”
Elliott certainly didn’t look like his injury slowed him down much judging from his first few laps in the No.9 Chevrolet Hendrick Motorsports. He was 10th fastest in practice and the 2020 NASCAR Cup Series Champion and reigning Favorite Driver was optimistic about getting back on the grid this weekend.
“I think you need to step back and look at the situation,” said Elliott, who fractured the tibia in his left leg while snowboarding in March.
“I think everyone has to realize that if I didn’t feel like I could do it, I wouldn’t be going this weekend. Ultimately, that’s my decision. The doctors and I have really been talking the whole time and we just feel like I’ve got to a point now where the integrity of the bone is such that I’m not going to hurt it in this matter.
“It’s about building that strength back up and getting to a point where you’re comfortable with your range of motion and things like that, to get in there and do a good job and I think this is the right week for that .”
–Chastain returns to Martinsville
Ross Chastain returns to the track that essentially made him a household name for NASCAR fans. Last October he went through the wall here on the last lap of the Championship qualifying race and passed five cars on the final corner to secure a spot in the Championship Four season finale.
Since then, the Florida watermelon farmer has been hailed for taking that dramatic and fateful step in the race — something he appreciates. But the soft-spoken driver of the #1 Trackhouse Racing Chevrolet says he’s far more concerned with the present than the past – and poised to win his first race of 2023.
How has it been being back in Martinsville for the first race since then?
“It’s different, but this was a life-changing moment for me and my team, everyone around me, and we will feel the benefits of it for years to come,” said Chastain, who won the No. 1 Trackhouse Racing will start Chevrolet 34th on Sunday.
“But that takes nothing away from the competition. This place humbled me for a decade through the (CRAFTSMAN) Truck Series, Xfinity and Cup and continued that yesterday in the Truck Race. As cool and awesome as it is and we have a piece of the wall – I don’t think any other driver has taken a piece of the wall home – it still doesn’t help with the lap time.”
–Jimmie Johnson joins the National Motorsports Hall of Fame
Seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson has been inducted into the 2024 inductive class of the National Motorsports Hall of Fame of America, the hall announced Friday.
The 47-year-old winner of 84 races and current owner of the Legacy Motor Club Cup Series team will be NASCAR’s representative at next March’s induction ceremonies. He will join other nominees such as Scott Dixon, his former Chip Ganassi Racing IndyCar Series teammate, as well as Jim Downing and Dr. Join Robert Hubbard, the creators of the HANS device.
“It is an incredible honor to be inducted into the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America,” said Johnson. “I have been fortunate to be honored in many ways during my racing career and to be recognized in that capacity is truly humbling.
“I attended the induction ceremonies of Tony Stewart in 2019 and my childhood mentor Ricky Johnson in 2012, so to be added to this elite group of people – by the equally impressive voting commission – is truly special. I am so grateful.”
His friend and colleague Tony Stewart was particularly proud that Johnson won the bid.
“I’m thinking about him anyway,” Stewart said, “I always tell him when I grow up that I want to be him, and there’s a grain of truth to that. There is no one who has done everything he has done with the amount of class and charisma that Jimmie has.
“No one made such a mark on that era as Jimmie Johnson. Nobody deserves more than Jimmie.”
NASCAR Cup Series Qualifying – NOCO 400
Saturday April 15, 2023
1. (41) Ryan Preece, Ford, 94.780 mph.
2nd (99) Daniel Suarez, Chevrolet, 94.298 mph.
3rd (10) Aric Almirola, Ford, 94.298 mph.
4. (14) Chase Briscoe, Ford, 94.153 mph.
5th (19) Martin Truex Jr., Toyota, 94.120 mph.
6th (45) Tyler Reddick, Toyota, 94.078 mph.
7. (4) Kevin Harvick, Ford, 93.975 mph.
8. (24) William Byron, Chevrolet, 93.952 mph.
9. (23) Bubba Wallace, Toyota, 93.896 mph.
10. (17) Chris Buescher, Ford, 93.784mph.
11. (11) Denny Hamlin, Toyota, 0,000 mph.
12. (54) Ty Gibbs #, Toyota, 0,000mph.
13. (38) Todd Gilliland, Ford, 0,000mph.
14. (16) AJ Allmendinger, Chevrolet, 0,000 mph.
15. (22) Joey Logano, Ford, 0,000 mph.
16. (47) Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Chevrolet, 0.000mph.
17. (8) Kyle Busch, Chevrolet, 0,000 mph.
18. (3) Austin Dillon, Chevrolet, 0,000 mph.
19. (5) Kyle Larson, Chevrolet, 0,000 mph.
20. (34) Michael McDowell, Ford, 0,000mph.
21. (6) Brad Keselowski, Ford, 0,000 mph.
22. (20) Christopher Bell, Toyota, 0.000mph.
23. (48) Alex Bowman, Chevrolet, 0,000 mph.
24. (9) Chase Elliott, Chevrolet, 0,000 mph.
25. (2) Austin Cindric, Ford, 0,000 mph.
26. (31) Justin Haley, Chevrolet, 0,000 mph.
27. (7) Corey LaJoie, Chevrolet, 0,000 mph.
28. (43) Erik Jones, Chevrolet, 0,000 mph.
29. (42) Noah Gragson #, Chevrolet, 0,000mph.
30. (78) Anthony Alfredo(i), Chevrolet, 0.000mph.
31. (12) Ryan Blaney, Ford, 0,000 mph.
32. (21) Harrison Burton, Ford, 0,000 miles per hour.
33. (51) Zane Smith(i), Ford, 0,000mph.
34. (1) Ross Chastain, Chevrolet, 0,000 mph.
35. (77) Ty Dillon, Chevrolet, 0,000 mph.
36. (15) JJ Yeley(i), Ford, 0.000mph.
–By NASCAR Wire Service, specifically for field-level media