JGR's Christopher Bell takes the pole at Darlington for NASCAR's opening playoff race

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Christopher Bell talks after winning the pole during qualifications for a NASCAR Cup Series auto race at Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn, Mich., Saturday, Aug. 5, 2023. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

DARLINGTON, S.C. – Joe Gibbs Racing's Christopher Bell will start the NASCAR Cup Series playoffs up front after winning the pole at the Southern 500 on Saturday.

Bell took his fourth pole of the season and third in the past eight races. He turned a fast lap of 29.065 seconds (169.193 mph) at Darlington Raceway.

“It definitely feels good,” Bell said. “Darlington is a place where it's notoriously hard to pass so being up front is good deal.”

Bell starts besides JGR teammate Denny Hamlin, second fastest on the 1.366-mile egg-shaped layout.

In all, playoff drivers took the first nine qualifying spots. Tyler Reddick was third, Ryan Blaney fourth, then Brad Keselowski, defending series champion Joey Logano, Kevin Harvick, Chris Buescher and Michael McDowell.

Aric Almirola, in 10th, is the first non-playoff competitor in the lineup.

The two points leaders and playoff seeds in William Byron and Martin Truex Jr. were back of the pack. Byron, with five wins this season, will start 23rd and Truex, with three victories, 31st.

The rest of the 16 playoff competitors are Kyle Busch, who'll start 11th; Chase Briscoe, who'll start 12th; Kyle Larson, who'll start 18th; Bubba Wallace, who'll start 19th; and Ricky Stenhouse Jr., who'll start 25th.

Ryan Preece, coming off a frightening crash at Daytona last week, starts 34th in the 36-car field.


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