William Byron claims Cup Series pole in Austin

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 seconds 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 the 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 the 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 champion and two-time World Endurance Championship winner, will be making his NASCAR COTA debut in the No. 50 23XI Racing Toyota from 25th place on the starting grid.