Bell beats Hamlin for Bristol Cup pole in all-JGR front row

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Bell beats Hamlin for Bristol Cup pole in all-JGR front row

Bell went out early in the final round of Friday’s qualifying session at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway and his average lap speed of 126.997 mph was enough to hold off his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate, Denny Hamlin (126.930 mph), who was the last on the track.

So far, Bell has been unable to translate his playoff poles into wins.

He ended up 23rd at Darlington and finished eighth last weekend at Kansas. His only win this season came at the Bristol Dirt Race in April. The pole is Bell’s fifth this season and ninth of his career.

“All the credit goes back to the guys that are putting these cars together,” Bell said. “I tell you, what, that is probably one of the tightest qualifying margins ever.

“This is my favorite race of the year – the Bristol Night Race. I got great starting spot and 500 long laps tomorrow.”

Asked if he has a car that has the necessary long-run speed to contend for a win, Bell said, “Absolutely, I do every week. It’s just a matter of execution. The key is putting the whole race together. We’ve been doing a bad job of that. Whenever we do put it all together, good things are going to come.”

William Byron ended up third, Michael McDowell fourth and Martin Truex Jr. – who is in danger of being eliminated from the playoffs in the first round – was fifth.

Completing the top-10 starting lineup are Brad Keselowski, Chase Elliott, Ty Gibbs, Bubba Wallace and Corey LaJoie.

Round 1 / Group A

Bell topped the first group with an average lap speed of 126.980 mph.

Gibbs was second quick (126.570 mph) and LaJoie was third (125.782 mph).

Also advancing to the final round of qualifying were Wallace and Elliott.

Among those who failed to move on was Kyle Larson, who was fastest in Friday’s practice. Larson got loose on his initial qualifying lap in Turns 3 and 4 and ended up slowest of everyone in the first group.

Also missing the cut were Kevin Harvick, Ross Chastain and Joey Logano.

Round 1 / Group B

Hamlin, one of the last to attempt a qualifying lap, ended up fastest in Group B with an average lap speed of 127.393 mph.

Keselowski was second fastest (127.022 mph) and Byron was third (127.014 mph).

Also advancing to the final round were McDowell and Truex.

“Our car was really good on the long run we just didn’t know what we’d have for a two-lap fire-off,” McDowell said. “We have to turn this qualifying speed into a finish. A win tomorrow would be great.”

Among those who failed to move on were Ryan Blaney, last week’s winner Tyler Reddick, Alex Bowman and Kyle Busch.

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