In a thrilling final qualifying round, Hendrick Motorsports driver William Byron was able to hold on to the pole position despite a 94.685 mph run by Joe Gibbs Racing’s Ty Gibbs, whose slight bobble in the final turns – in the final seconds of the session – at the Circuit of the Americas (COTA) road course was just off the mark.

 

This is the 13th career pole for Byron, driver of the No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet – and the fifth on a road course, which is most among active drivers. This year’s Daytona 500 winner edged Gibbs’ No 54 JGR Toyota by a slight .015-second around the 20-turn, 3.41-mile road course to earn the right to lead the field to green in Sunday’s EchoPark Automotive Grand Prix (3:30 p.m. ET, FOX, PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).

 

“It’s just an evolution over time, going out to the karting track this week,’’ Byron said of preparing for the season’s first road course test. “Honestly this has been my first normal week since the [Daytona] 500 and being in my rhythm and kind of in my cocoon and being able to focus on driving the race car.

 

“I feel very happy with the way the week has gone and feel very fresh going into this race, so I’m excited for that.’’

 

As for Gibbs, who made a valiant, if unsuccessful, effort in the closing seconds to earn pole, it is still the second consecutive week he has started from the front row. Defending race winner, 23XI Racing’s Tyler Reddick will start his No. 45 Toyota third. He has started among the top five now in all four NASCAR Cup Series races at COTA. JGR’s Christopher Bell, a winner at Phoenix two weeks ago, will start fourth.

 

Spire Motorsports’ Corey LaJoie, who turned in a showstopper effort in qualifying, will start fifth in the No. 7 Chevrolet, the best starting position of his nine-year NASCAR Cup Series career. And Ross Chastain, who scored his first career NASCAR Cup Series victory at COTA in 2022, will start sixth – his first top 10 start of the season.

 

Joe Gibbs Racing teammates Martin Truex Jr. and Denny Hamlin line up seventh and eighth with 23XI Racing’s Bubba Wallace and Hendrick Motorsports’ Chase Elliott rounding out the final round qualifiers.

 

Nineteen drivers broke the track record in what was a dramatic first session. Several of the drivers who had been fast earlier in the day surprisingly did not advance to challenge for pole position. Among those were New Zealander Shane van Gisbergen, who had been among those at the top of the speed charts in both practice sessions. He just missed advancing to final qualifying, finishing less than a hundredth of a second behind LaJoie in Group A. And just behind him, his Kaulig Racing teammate A.J. Allmendinger, a two-time Xfinity Series winner at COTA, was also slightly off the qualifying pace.

 

Van Gisbergen and Allmendinger, who are both competing in Saturday afternoon’s NASCAR Xfinity Series race, will start 12th and 14th , respectively on Sunday.

 

Among those in Group B not to advance to final qualifying was Kyle Larson, who had shown top five speed during practice. Larson, who is tied atop the championship points lead with Truex, was a little late to join his timed qualifying session as the No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports team performed a quick rotor change and was never a threat for pole. He’ll start Sunday’s race 15th.

 

Austin Cindric was the top qualifying Ford and will start his No. 2 Team Penske Mustang 11th.  His teammate, reigning series champion Ryan Blaney will start the No. 12 Team Penske Mustang 28th among the 39-car field.

 

Japanese driver Kamui Kobayashi – a two-time Rolex 24 at Daytona winner and two-time World Endurance Championship champion, will be making his NASCAR COTA debut in the No. 50 23XI Racing Toyota from 25th place on the starting grid. 

 

NOTES

*NASCAR Cup Series star Kyle Larson will start alongside three-time Supercars champion, New Zealander Shane van Gisbergen on the front row for today’s Focused Health 250 NASCAR Xfinity Series race at COTA ( 5 p.m. ET, FS1, PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). This will be Larson’s first Xfinity start of the season.

 

Ty Gibbs, who along with Larson and Van Gisbergen is doing double this weekend, will start third alongside last week’s Bristol, Tenn. Xfinity race winner Chandler Smith.

 

*For the second time this season a young driver has claimed pole position in his series debut. Seventeen-year old Connor Zilisch will lead the field to green in the XPEL 225 NASCAR CRAFTSMAN Truck Series race (1:30 p.m. ET, FS1, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). NASCAR Xfinity Series rookie Jesse Love won the pole position at Daytona in his debut.

 

Although he’s only 17 years-old, Zilisch has already established himself a road course talent – winning in class at this year’s Rolex 24 at Daytona and claiming a second endurance trophy only a week ago in the famed 12 Hours of Sebring endurance classic. And now he’ll lead the field to green in his NASCAR debut.

 

“I’m kind of blown away,’’ conceded Zilisch, driver of the No. 7 Spire Motorsports Chevrolet.  “Gotta hand it all to Spire Motorsports and the truck that they brought. We had a really fast Chevy today and made my job really easy. Obviously, I’ve still got to go out there and not make mistakes but honestly, I feel like I could have driven that at 95 percent and still been able to get the pole.’’

 

Taylor Gray and Nick Sanchez will start third and fourth with Ross Chastain – a NASCAR Cup Series race winner at COTA – starting fifth.