Martin Truex Jr. is raising his NASCAR Cup Series Playoff game at just the right time — claiming the pole position in his No. 19 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota for Sunday‘s 4EVER 400 presented by Mobil 1 (2:30 p.m. ET, NBC, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) in Saturday morning qualifying at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
Since claiming the 2023 regular season championship, Truex had only earned a single top 10 in the seven 2023 Playoff races since. The 2017 series champion promised the team was primed to raise its game and he‘s certainly proven that, with a top 10 last week at Las Vegas and now claiming the top qualifying position with a fast lap of 167.411 mph around the Homestead oval — outdistancing fellow Toyota driver Bubba Wallace by a slight .313-second.
A previous two-time race winner at the 1.5-mile South Florida track, Truex is primed to reclaim momentum with only two races remaining to set the Championship 4 for the Nov. 5 season finale at Phoenix Raceway.
“I felt good coming into this round,‘‘ Truex said. “Last week didn‘t go quite as good as I had hoped but there was potential there. And coming here I felt good because it‘s always been a good track for us. We‘ve run up front a lot. It‘s just a comfort zone for me, this kind of race track. There‘s a confidence there.‘‘
Truex‘s only other pole position this season came at Darlington, S.C. this spring. The top qualifying position on Saturday is the 22nd of his career.
“I really didn‘t expect to get the pole honestly,‘‘ he said of his first career NASCAR Cup Series pole position at Homestead. “Even after practice I thought the car was good on the long run and needed to make some tweaks to be better for tomorrow, but pretty excited to be on pole here after that. Didn‘t expect it, was hoping for a top five and got a little surprise.‘‘
Wallace‘s 23XI Racing teammate Tyler Reddick — also a Playoff driver – was third fastest giving Toyota a top-three sweep on the grid and the make‘s seventh pole position in eight Playoff races. It is the milestone 500th pole position in NASCAR‘s three national series.
Roush Fenway Keselowski Racing‘s owner/driver Brad Keselowski was fourth quickest in his No. 6 RFK Ford with defending race winner, Hendrick Motorsports‘ Kyle Larson turning in the fifth fastest lap. The 2021 series champion Larson is the only Playoff driver who has already earned his position in the Championship 4 after winning at Las Vegas in last week‘s Round of 8 opening race.
Richard Childress Racing‘s Austin Dillon, Hendrick‘s William Byron and Trackhouse Racing‘s Ross Chastain gave Chevrolet the sixth-through-eighth place starting positions on the grid. Byron is the current championship points leader and a former Homestead race winner.
JGR rookie Ty Gibbs and Team Penske‘s Ryan Blaney round out the top 10 drivers who advanced to final round qualifying. Blaney is also a Playoff driver.
Three Playoff drivers did not advance to final qualifying round but still turned in solid work. JGR‘s Denny Hamlin, who has a record-tying three victories at the track – will roll of 11th. His teammate Christopher Bell, who advanced to the Championship 4 last season, will start 13th and RFK Racing‘s Christopher Buescher will start 17th on the grid.
While Larson has already secured his automatic bid into the Phoenix finale with his Las Vegas win, the points standings are tightly bunched behind him.
Byron holds a nine-point edge over fifth place Bell. Truex and Hamlin are both only two-points to the good on Bell. Reddick is 16 points off the elimination line, Blaney is 17 points back and Buescher is only 23 points behind the top four.
“It‘s very important because we‘re plus-two at this point,‘‘ Truex said of continuing to excel in this critical Playoff round. “We can‘t afford to give up points, we‘ve got to get all we can tomorrow.‘‘
–NASCAR Wire Service–