CONCORD, N.C. – On Thursday afternoon at Charlotte Motor Speedway, Brad Keselowski opined that the Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolets were the fastest cars in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series garage.
Turns out he was right — about one of them, at least.
As twilight approached at the 1.5-mile intermediate track, William Byron turned a lap in 29.440 seconds (183.424 mph) in his No. 24 Chevy to win the pole position for Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600 (6 p.m. ET on FOX, PRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio), earning the distinction as the youngest pole winner in the 60-year history of NASCAR’s longest race—and at Charlotte Motor Speedway, for that matter.
In winning his second Busch Pole Award of the season and the second of his fledgling career, the 21-year-old Charlotte native was .057 seconds faster than second-place qualifier Aric Almirola, who turned a lap at 183.069 mph in his No. 10 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford.
“This is a dream come true,” Byron said, after watching teammate Alex Bowman fall short as the final driver to make a qualifying run. “Obviously, I grew up in Charlotte and came to this race every year. So it’s a dream come true to qualify on the pole with Hendrick Motorsports just across the street and all the hard work and everybody at Chevrolet giving us fast race cars.
“This is pretty cool. I can’t think of a better way to start the weekend.”
Kyle Busch was third in the fastest Toyota at 182.933 mph. Austin Dillon qualified fourth, followed by Stewart-Haas teammates Kevin Harvick and Daniel Suarez.
Byron is seeking his first Cup victory, but his crew chief, seven-time champion Chad Knaus, has four wins in the Coca-Cola 600, and Byron feels their level of communication has been on an upswing.
“Yeah, just the dialogue we have in the hauler or transporter or whatever you want to call it,” Byron said. “We go back and forth on communication changes. It’s starting to improve for us, and that’s where the speed is coming from. Also, the cars are getting faster. So this is really exciting.”
Joey Logano was seventh fastest, followed by Clint Bowyer, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Daniel Hemric, as Ford drivers nailed down six of the top 10 positions on the grid.
Keselowski, who qualified 21st, was slightly off the mark about the other three Hendrick cars. Chase Elliott qualified 12th, Bowman 13th and seven-time series champion Jimmie Johnson 15th. Johnson, who has eight victories at Charlotte, hopes to break a winless streak that has reached 71 races.
“There are three of our Hendrick cars right there with us,” Johnson said. “The 24 (Byron) had an incredible lap, so we’ll try to dig in and see just how committed they were to qualifying. I think we were a bit more in a race scenario, the way it looks at my quick glance, but we just have to stick together as a group.
“The fact that three of our cars were there and so close in speed is a great starting spot for all of us. We had a couple of cars that ran good in the All-Star Race (last Saturday) and a couple that didn’t. Mine was one that didn’t. To piggy-back on what those guys had going on is the goal for us this weekend, and we’ll see how that translates to the race.”