NASCAR Cup Series

Ryan Blaney blitzes his way to the top spot in Busch Light Pole qualifying at COTA

AUSTIN, Texas — Team Penske driver Ryan Blaney will start from pole position in Sunday’s EchoPark Automotive Grand Prix (3:30 p.m. ET on FOX, PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio), becoming the first multi-time pole winner of the 2022 season — tallying eight in his career.

Blaney’s lap of 92.759 mph around the 3.41-mile, 20-turn road course in the No. 12 Team Penske Ford held up to a late charge by Trackhouse Racing’s Daniel Suárez, who edged Stewart-Haas Racing’s Cole Custer for the outside of the front row but was still just .026 seconds off Blaney’s fastest lap.

“I wouldn’t really say I’m a great road-course racer by any means, I enjoy road courses a lot but never been in great contention to win one,” Blaney said, adding, “So I would say I’m an average road-course racer. And honestly what made me happy about the pole was that we were fifth in our (first round) group and barely made the Round of 10 and then picked up half a second from first round, so I was as proud we picked up that speed.”

Custer will start third, lining up alongside Richard Childress Racing’s Tyler Reddick. Hendrick Motorsports driver Alex Bowman, Team Penske’s Joey Logano, Joe Gibbs Racing’s Denny Hamlin, Kaulig Racing’s Justin Haley and Team Penske rookie Austin Cindric rounded out the top 10.

It was quite the day’s comeback for Blaney, 28, who went off course and hit the soft barriers during opening practice but was able to rebound to the top position when it mattered most.

“Talk about an up-and-down day for sure, from putting it in the barriers on my third lap and not knowing if the car was killed, if we would have to go to a backup, what it was going to take to fix it,” Blaney said, noting the incident with the barriers knocked his left-side mirrors off, preventing him from being able to really see the damage on the left side.

“I got out of the car and looked at it and it was scuffed up but not too bad,” he said. “They went through everything thoroughly and nothing was bent so got really lucky, honestly from a mistake of mine. Really lucky we hit those plastic blocks.”

Notably absent from the final 10-car round were defending COTA race winner Chase Elliott, who was 12th fastest in qualifying. His teammate and the reigning series champion Kyle Larson was 13th fastest.

Kyle Busch, a four-time road-course winner, was only 15th fastest and his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Martin Truex Jr. — another four-time road-course winner — was 17th fastest. Road-course ace A.J. Allmendinger was 20th — fast in practice but having a hiccup in qualifying.

Busch topped the lone practice session of the morning, capitalizing on a seven-lap run and a 132.455-second lap time at a top speed of 92.68 mph. The No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing machine was the only Toyota in the top 12 on the leaderboard. JGR teammate Christopher Bell was next in line in 13th, more than a second behind.

Harrison Burton (fourth) and Blaney (seventh) led the Ford group at 92.436 mph and 92.376, respectively.

Chevrolet finished with the most drivers inside the top 10 after practice, led by Trackhouse Racing: Suárez (second), Bowman (third), Reddick (fifth), Ross Chastain (sixth) and Allmendinger (eighth). Chevrolet has won 10 of the last 11 road-course races.

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