DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (AP) — Chase Briscoe won the pole Friday for the NASCAR Cup Series regular-season finale at Daytona International Speedway.
Briscoe had a lap at 181.822 mph in the No. 14 Ford in the final round of qualifying, edging Stewart-Haas Racing teammate Aric Almirola for the No. 1 starting spot. Harrison Burton qualified third in another Ford, followed by 23IX Racing teammates Bubba Wallace and Ty Gibbs in Toyotas.
The top five qualifiers are among 17 drivers vying for the series’ final postseason berth at Daytona.
“We literally have absolutely nothing to lose with our points situation,” Briscoe said. “That part of it is a little freeing and relieving.”
All four SHR cars qualified in the top 10, and nine of the top 12 were Fords.
Wallace has a tenuous hold on the 16th and final spot, carrying a 32-point advantage over Gibbs into Daytona. Daniel Suárez is 43 points behind Wallace. The three Toyota drivers are the only ones who can get in on points.
Fourteen others can knock out the trio by winning the Coke Zero Sugar 400 on Saturday night. No one would be surprised to see it happen because the all-or-nothing group includes fan favorite Chase Elliott and Hendrick Motorsports teammate Alex Bowman, two guys who usually have speed at superspeedways, as well as former Daytona winners Almirola, Austin Cindric, Austin Dillon, Erik Jones and Justin Haley.
All of them will be chasing Briscoe when the green flag drops.
“Everybody loves an underdog,” Briscoe said. “We’d be the equivalent of a 16 seed (in the NCAA Tournament). Hopefully we can get in and cause a raucous.”
Elliott qualified 23rd, eight spots ahead of Bowman.
“I hope it comes down to the two of us because that means one of is going to get in,” Elliott said. “I hope that’s the case for the sake of Hendrick Motorsports. … But one of us is going to be left short. It’s part of racing, and I’m looking forward to it.”
Hendrick already has two drivers locked in: William Byron and Kyle Larson. Elliott and Bowman might be in had it not been for issues earlier in the season.
Elliott missed six races after breaking his left leg in a snowboarding accident in early March and was suspended for another for intentionally wrecking Denny Hamlin. Bowman was sidelined three races while recovering from a back injury sustained during a rollover in a sprint car race and also was docked 60 points for a violation.
“A friend of mine said to me this week, ‘Dude, you missed seven races and you’ were like 40 points from 16th before Michigan,’” Elliott said. “When you look at it like that, it could be a lot worse. I sat on the cough for seven weekends this year and we had a legitimate shot of pointsing our way in, which I just never thought was going to be possible and we haven’t been running out best, either.
“All those give me positivity in knowing that, yeah, the situation’s not ideal — I’d like to be doing better — but it’s not all bad. … Granted, we haven’t gotten to victory lane at this point, but I’m proud of the work that we put in and I think there’s better days ahead.”