By Holly Cain and Reid Spencer
NASCAR Wire Service
Qualifying rainout puts Kyle Larson on pole for Daytona Cup race
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla.—Kyle Larson will start on the pole for Saturday’s all-important Coke Zero Sugar 400 NASCAR Cup Series race after rain at Daytona International Speedway on Friday forced cancellation of qualifying for the final regular-season race.
Larson won last Sunday at Watkins Glen and topped the Daytona field according to metrics, which by rule are used to order the field in case of a cancellation.
Regular-season champion Chase Elliott will start beside his Hendrick Motorsports teammate on the front row. Joey Logano and Daniel Suarez will take the green flag from the third and fourth positions.
Given the withdrawal of Kurt Busch from Playoff competition because of lingering concussion symptoms, there are now two Playoff spots available in the final regular-season race. Ryan Blaney and Martin Truex Jr. currently hold positions 15 and 16 on points, with Blaney maintaining a 25-point edge entering Saturday’s race.
Truex will start 12th in the Coke Zero Sugar 400 and Blaney 15th. But it’s not as if those drivers don’t have something to worry about. Any one of 13 drivers below them in the standings could steal one of the remaining Playoff spots with a victory.
Seven of those 13 competitors—Aric Almirola, Brad Keselowski, Erik Jones, Justin Haley, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Michael McDowell and Austin Dillon—have Daytona victories on their resumes.
Also part of the group of 13 is 23XI Racing’s Bubba Wallace, Kurt Busch’s teammate. Wallace has three runner-up finishes in 10 Daytona starts, including the last two races at the 2.5-mile superspeedway.
Chris Buescher doesn’t have a points win at Daytona, but he and teammate Keselowski won their respective Duel 150-mile qualifying races at the track in February. Buescher starts eighth—closest to the front among eligible drivers below the Playoff cut line.
“I guess I can’t say I’m shocked by the way this weekend is starting,” Buescher said. “We definitely knew today was pretty rough on radar. I guess with that it does give us a pretty good starting spot for Daytona, but if there’s any race that’s not track-position sensitive, this is it.
“That being said. It’s good to have a good spot. I know we’re going to have a fast race car… We’ve got to be smart about it, we’ve got to be clean and take the speed that we know we’ll have and make something out of it.”
Martin Truex Jr. faces his most important race of 2022
Joe Gibbs Racing driver Martin Truex Jr. could only smile and acknowledge that Saturday night’s regular-season finale, the Coke Zero Sugar 400 at Daytona International Speedway, was poised to be the biggest race of the season for the 42-year old former NASCAR Cup Series champion.