Christopher Bell endured an inconsistent regular season.
At the start of the playoffs, the NASCAR Cup Series driver finds himself in prime position. Bell on Saturday captured the pole position for Sunday’s Cook Out Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway.
It was the third pole in the last eight races for Bell, who turned a hot lap of 169.193 mph.
“It’s been a lot of fun,” Bell told NBC Sports.
The pilot for the No. 20 Toyota just needs to figure out how to string together quality runs on race day. Over the final nine regular-season races, Bell finished 13th or worse six times, including a P29 when he started on the pole at New Hampshire.
With nine Round of 16 drivers starting in the top 10 at Darlington, Bell said the starting spot is “huge. Qualifying up front sets you up so good for those first stage points.”
Denny Hamlin (169.042 mph) will start on the outside of the front row, while Tyler Reddick, Ryan Blaney and Brad Keselowski rounded out the top five.
Aric Almirola, who was the lone non-playoff driver to make Saturday’s final qualifying round, will start P10.
Bell on pole🔔
— Rubbin is Racing (@rubbinisracing) September 2, 2023
Underdogs Enter Playoffs Ready To Be Big Dogs
Their odds were the biggest, according to DraftKings Sportsbook.
Bubba Wallace (+3500) entered the week ranked 14th of the Cup Series’ Round of 16 playoff qualifiers. Michael McDowell (+6500) was 15th and Ricky Stenhouse (+10000) was listed last.
The lower-tier trio has something to prove.
“We definitely are (underdogs),” Stenhouse said Thursday, as reported by NASCAR.com during Cup Series Playoffs Media Day at the Charlotte Convention Center. “Obviously, all the powerhouse teams we’re going up against are manufacturer teams. Definitely an underdog, but I think we like our role.”
Often driving underfunded machines, McDowell qualified for the playoffs for the second time in his career.
A first-time postseason qualifier, Wallace is one of only three playoff pilots without a win this season.
“I think I’m pumped to be an underdog,” Wallace said. We know we are way more capable of being better than 16th, but we know if we don’t execute, we can see our happy asses in 16th. We just have to go out and do what we know how to do and just do it. Not get complacent and be one of those front-running cars over the next 10 weeks. We know it’s a tall task, but we can do it.”
— SiriusXM NASCAR Radio (Ch. 90) (@SiriusXMNASCAR) August 31, 2023
Starting Lineup for NASCAR Cup Series’ Cook Out Southern 500
Here is a look at the lineup for Sunday’s NASCAR Cup Series’ Cook Out Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway:
Starting Position, Driver, Car No., Team
- 1, Christopher Bell, 20, Joe Gibbs Racing
- 2, Denny Hamlin, 11, Joe Gibbs Racing
- 3, Tyler Reddick, 45, 23XI Racing
- 4, Ryan Blaney, 12, Team Penske
- 5, Brad Keselowski, 6, RFK Racing
- 6, Joey Logano, 22, Team Penske
- 7, Kevin Harvick, 4, Stewart-Haas Racing
- 8, Chris Buescher, 17, RFK Racing
- 9, Michael McDowell, 34, Front Row Motorsports
- 10, Aric Almirola, 10, Stewart-Haas Racing
- 11, Kyle Busch, 8, Richard Childress Racing
- 12, Chase Briscoe, 14, Stewart-Haas Racing
- 13, Chase Elliott, 9, Hendrick Motorsports
- 14, Austin Cindric, 2, Team Penske
- 15, Carson Hocevar, 42, Legacy Motor Club
- 16, AJ Allmendinger, 16, Kaulig Racing
- 17, Ty Gibbs, 54, Joe Gibbs Racing
- 18, Kyle Larson, 5, Hendrick Motorsports
- 19, Bubba Wallace, 23, 23XI Racing
- 20, Erik Jones, 43, Legacy Motor Club
- 21, Daniel Suarez, 99, Trackhouse Racing
- 22, Corey LaJoie, 7, Spire Motorsports
- 23, William Byron, 24, Hendrick Motorsports
- 24, Alex Bowman, 48, Hendrick Motorsports
- 25, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., 47, JTG Daugherty Racing
- 26, Ty Dillon, 77, Spire Motorsports
- 27, Ross Chastain, 1, Trackhouse Racing
- 28, Austin Dillon, 3, Richard Childress Racing
- 29, Justin Haley, 31, Kaulig Racing
- 30, Todd Gilliland, 38, Front Row Motorsports
- 31, Martin Truex Jr., 19, Joe Gibbs Racing
- 32, Harrison Burton, 21, Wood Brothers Racing
- 33, JJ Yeley, 15, Rick Ware Racing
- 34, Ryan Preece, 41, Stewart-Haas Racing
- 35, BJ McLeod, 78, Live Fast Motorsports
- 36, Ryan Newman, 51, Rick Ware Racing
— Zach Arnold (@zacharnold88) September 2, 2023