Christopher Bell lives for the thrill of qualifying on intermediate speedways.

But at this point, he‘d probably give his eye teeth just to finish a race on Sunday.

Navigating Kansas Speedway in an impressive 29.491 seconds (183.107 mph) in the final round of NASCAR Cup Series time trials on Saturday afternoon, Bell won the pole position for Sunday‘s AdventHealth 400 (3 p.m. ET on FS1, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).

He‘ll share the front row with Chevrolet driver Ross Chastain (182.704 mph), whose lap was 0.065 seconds off Bell‘s blistering pace.

The Busch Light Pole Award is Bell‘s first of the season, his third at the 1.5-mile track and the 11th of his career, all coming since NASCAR introduced the Next Gen race car into the Cup Series in 2022.

Even as he accepted congratulations for his pole-winning effort, however, Bell already was looking ahead to Sunday‘s race, the series‘ 12th of the season.

“I love the high-speed places, the paces where you‘re on the verge of being wide-open or not being wide-open, and the intermediates have been really good for us,” said Bell, who has more poles in the Next Gen era than any other driver.

Since winning the third race of the season at Phoenix in March, however, Bell and his No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota team have suffered a litany of misfortunes. In his last four starts, Bell has posted a best finish of 17th at Texas and three results of 34th or worse.

“Honestly, at this point, I‘m not looking for a race win, guys,” said Bell, who described his 34th-place run last Sunday at Dover as “the bottom of the barrel.”

“I‘m just looking to see the checkered flag. I know my car has great capability, and if I just see the checkered flag with a clean car, we‘re going to have a good, solid day, and that‘s definitely what we‘re after tomorrow.”

Ford driver Noah Gragson (182.451 mph) qualified third, sustaining the momentum from a pair of top-10 performances at Talladega and Dover. Kyle Larson was fourth fastest at 182.383 mph, followed by Kyle Busch, Ty Gibbs and Austin Cindric.

Michael McDowell, Chase Elliott and Chase Briscoe will start from positions eight through 10, respectively.

Jimmie Johnson lauds injured Erik Jones for postponing return to action

Though Legacy Motor Club announced that Erik Jones has been cleared to return to racing by doctors and by NASCAR, the team convinced Jones it would be in his best interest to sit out Sunday‘s AdventHealth 400 at Kansas Speedway (3 p.m. ET on FS1, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).

Jones suffered a compression fracture in a lower vertebra when his No. 43 Toyota rocketed into the Turn 3 wall during a four-car accident on Lap 155 at Talladega on April 21. He missed last Sunday‘s race at Dover, where NASCAR CRAFTSMAN Truck Series driver Corey Heim finished 25th in relief.

Heim will continue in that role on Sunday. The plan is for Jones to return May 12 at Darlington, where he has scored two of his three NASCAR Cup Series victories.

Team co-owner Jimmie Johnson helped convince Jones that a cautious approach was best, given the high-speed nature of 1.5-mile Kansas Speedway.

”Yeah, I don‘t envy his position, but I really do appreciate his willingness to hear us out,” said Johnson, who will compete on Sunday in his second straight Cup event in the No. 84 Legacy Camry. “It‘s not a fun process, and as far as he‘s concerned, he should have never missed a race. He‘s just eager to do it. I‘ve played hurt before, so I get it and have seen both sides of it.

“My concern is that we‘re at a fast track and an impact like that could happen again, and is his body really ready for that? And that‘s kind of the question he came to his own answer on and realized that it‘s probably early.

“There‘s a lot of other bits and pieces to that, but ultimately, he feels great and is moving around really well. He was able to get in the gym and exercise, but to really take a shot like you can at this place, it‘s just early.”

Toyota drivers look to continue Next-Gen era dominance at Kansas

Ask Tyler Reddick to account for the recent success of 23XI Racing at Kansas Speedway, and he‘ll give you a succinct answer.

“I think it‘s our boss,” Reddick said, referring to team co-owner Denny Hamlin. “He‘s just really great. I think that‘s just a big part of it. Denny‘s just great, so we‘re great, too.”

To Reddick‘s point, Hamlin is the defending winner of Sunday‘s AdventHealth 400 (3 p.m. ET on FS1, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). Reddick is the most recent winner at the 1.5-mile intermediate track, having triumphed in the Playoff race last fall.

In 2022, the first year of Next Gen race car in the NASCAR Cup Series, Kurt Busch and Bubba Wallace carried the 23XI banner into Victory Lane as the organization swept both Kansas races.

Hamlin comes to Kansas as the series‘ most recent winner, having taken the checkered flag last Sunday at Dover to tie William Byron in Cup victories this season with three. Hamlin also boasts a record four wins at Kansas.

Hamlin predicted a victory for his No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing team at Dover and delivered. But on Saturday at Kansas, he wasn‘t ready to call his shot for a second straight week.

”I thought (crew chief) Chris (Gabehart) gave me the task of winning one of the next three races before we had the All-Star break, and we got the first week,” Hamlin said. “Now, from here on out, I think we can be in a good mood once we get to the All-Star break.

“Certainly, these next two tracks (Kansas and Darlington) are set up really nicely for us. So, I’m certainly encouraged by it. You don‘t want to use up all of your promises too early on in the season, so I‘ll try to save a few.”

Visit to Arlington National Cemetery had significant impact on Ryan Blaney

At the invitation of Charlotte Motor Speedway and Speedway Motorsports CEO Marcus Smith, NASCAR Cup Series champion Ryan Blaney visited Arlington National Cemetery and participated in a wreath-laying ceremony on Wednesday as part of the NASCAR Salutes initiative.

The experience clearly had a significant impact on the 30-year-old Team Penske driver.

“That was a really, really neat experience to go do,” Blaney said on Saturday at Kansas Speedway. “I was really happy that Charlotte and Marcus invited me out there. It was my first time to Arlington.

“It puts things into perspective, that‘s for sure—very quickly. You just see the vast size of that place, and you understand how many men and women have laid their lives down for us to do what we do.

“So it was neat. The wreath-laying ceremony was amazing. Watching the changing of the guard was really special. So I was happy they were able to line that up. I met a lot of great people out there who gave me a lot of the history of it—definitely a very humbling experience.”

— NASCAR News Wire —

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