Tyler Reddick edges Brad Keselowski for NASCAR Cup pole at Darlington

DARLINGTON, S.C.— Driving a No. 45 23XI Racing Toyota with a paint scheme reminiscent of the late Tim Richmond‘s 1982 Buick, Tyler Reddick emulated the driver he was honoring, winning the pole position for Sunday‘s Goodyear 400 NASCAR Cup Series race (3 p.m. ET on FS1, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).

Turning a lap at Darlington Raceway in 28.906 seconds (170.124 mph) in the final round of qualifying, Reddick edged Brad Keselowski (170.018 mph) for the top starting spot by 0.018 seconds.

The Busch Light Pole Award was Reddick‘s first of the season, his first at the Track Too Tough to Tame and the seventh of his career. Richmond won Darlington poles in 1983 and 1986.

“Just really excited that this Tim Richmond throwback Camry is going to be starting on the pole,” said Reddick, who added to the tribute with his own Richmond-style mustache.

“It‘s really nice to put the work in this week to have that kind of qualifying effort. Last week  was tough (in a 20th-place finish at Kansas). We didn‘t lack any effort in trying to find ways to have a good week this week.”

Chris Buescher qualified third at 169.543 mph, giving Roush Fenway Keselowski Racing two of the top three grid positions for Sunday‘s race, the 13th of the season. Buescher finished second to Kyle Larson by 0.001 seconds last Sunday at Kansas Speedway in the closest finish in Cup Series history.

Ty Gibbs (169.491 mph) will start fourth, followed by William Byron, Larson, Denny Hamlin, Bubba Wallace, Ross Chastain and Martin Truex Jr. Chastain edged Kyle Busch for the final Group B spot in the second round after both drivers ran identical times to the thousandth of a second in the opening round.

Chastain got the nod on an owner points tiebreaker.

Returning to competition after a two-race injury absence, Erik Jones will start 30th in the No. 43 Legacy Motor Club Toyota. Jones suffered a compression fracture of a lower vertebra during a multicar wreck at Talladega in April.

Reddick‘s paint scheme is the second he has run honoring Richmond.

“He was the type of driver, in my opinion—when he was at the track or away from the track—he was always living life to the fullest and really happy living the life he (led),” Reddick said.

“Obviously, what he could do inside of a race car, too, is something that I always extremely appreciated about him.”

There‘s one more way Reddick can emulate Richmond—do what Richmond did in 1986 and win at Darlington from the pole.

After significant adjustments, Erik Jones is back in action

Discretion was the better part of valor for Erik Jones, who sat out last Sunday‘s NASCAR Cup Series race at Kansas Speedway despite having been cleared to compete.

Jones suffered a compression fracture of a lower vertebra in a violent collision with the outside wall during a multicar accident April 21 at Talladega and missed the last two races, at Dover and Kansas.

He returns this weekend at Darlington, where he has claimed two of his three career victories, both in the Southern 500.

“There was probably a possibility coming back right away with the injury, but Dover was not a place where that was going to happen,” Jones said before qualifying on Saturday at Darlington. “Even Kansas was a place that was going to be challenging with high speed and a lot of risk of being an incident—not of your own doing necessarily.

“Coming to Darlington, I feel like you can control your own destiny a bit. There is less risk for an accident like that. Also, three weeks in, I feel like we are on the safe side of 100 percent, and I feel 100 percent.”

After a significant accident, there‘s always evaluation, and Jones‘ Legacy Motor Club team has made changes to increase Jones‘ comfort in the No. 43 Toyota.

“We‘ve changed the seat a lot,” Jones explained. “This will be the first race on that seat. I‘m sitting in a pretty different position than I‘m used to for almost all of my racing career. Guys that have (gone) through this similar injury have gone through the same transition to their seating position as well.

“Fortunately—it‘s not a short race, it‘s 400 miles—but it feels short here, I feel like. It will be a good test here, and next week at (North) Wilkesboro (in the NASCAR All-Star Race). How does the seat feel, what can I change before the (Coca-Cola) 600?

“I would say it is two good weeks of that, seeing how I feel, seeing what is bothering me, especially after Darlington tomorrow, and saying this what hurts, this is what we are going to change, and this is how we are going to move forward.”

Todd Gilliland adapting to idea of leadership role at Front Row

When Front Row Motorsports mainstay Michael McDowell announced earlier this week that he was leaving the organization after seven seasons, it took teammate Todd Gilliland by surprise.

“Part of me is surprised he‘s leaving, just because—same as you guys see—he‘s been there a long time, and he‘s really built the organization up into what it is today, in my opinion,” Gilliland said on Saturday at Darlington Raceway. “He‘s been a huge part of that.

“Yes, I am surprised he‘s leaving, but at the same time, he‘s been doing so well you have to think there‘s going to be opportunities. So, yes, I‘m definitely sad to see him go just based on how much his does, his leadership within the team.”

McDowell‘s exit to Spire Motorsports potentially thrusts Gilliland into a leadership role at Front Row, where his father, David Gilliland, drove for six full seasons.

“I did some interview where I said hopefully I can take the torch where I can do the leadership deal, and I joked at the moment (to McDowell), ‘I didn‘t want it to be this soon—you didn‘t need to leave this early.‘”

Before he can assume a leadership position at Front Row, however, Gilliland has to have a deal in place for next season. Team owner Bob Jenkins operates on a year-to-year basis, and one of the reasons the 2021 Daytona 500 winner chose was the offer of a longer-term deal with Spire.

Kyle Busch still seeking stability in Next Gen Cup Car

The transition to NASCAR‘s Next Gen race car hasn‘t been kind to Kyle Busch.

In 2022, the year of the Next Gen‘s introduction into the NASCAR Cup Series, Busch stole a win on Bristol dirt when Chase Briscoe and Tyler Reddick collided in front of him. That was his only victory in his final season with Joe Gibbs Racing.

Busch won three times in 2023 after a move to Richard Childress Racing, but he feels that other teams have made progress with the setups of the car that RCR hasn‘t matched.

“Last year, we were good out of the gate,” Busch said. “We had some good stuff, and then as times have changed, the setups have evolved, and guys have found how to make their stuff go faster. We just haven‘t been able to do that.”

Busch has 63 victories to his credit, most among active Cup Series drivers, but he hasn‘t achieved the level of comfort with the new car that Denny Hamlin and Kyle Larson have, for example.

“It definitely drives different than the old car,” Busch said. “What that is, I‘m not exactly sure… When you lean into the corner and the right-front is outside the right-rear, the car is much tighter. When you get to the center off of the corner and the right-front is inside the right-rear coming downhill, it‘s much looser.

“And so, trying to find that balance of that has been difficult, trying to get that right. But the old car didn‘t have that sensation. It was easy to just make a smooth corner and have the balance stay the same the whole time, where now I feel like I‘m fighting many more balance issues.”

The last two weeks have showed promise, however. Busch won the pole and finished fourth at Dover. At Kansas last Sunday, he ran consistently in the top five and rallied from a late spin to finish eighth.

— NASCAR News Wire —

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