William Byron rules Pocono qualifying
Charging around the 2.5-mile triangular track in 51.875 seconds (173.494 mph), Byron claimed the top starting spot for Sunday’s Pocono 400.
“Pole day’s been good for us,” said Byron, who collected his third Busch Pole Award of the season and the third of his career after winning his second last week at Charlotte. “Keep racking those up and, hopefully, rack up a better result on race day, too.”
The Daytona 500 pole winner beat Kyle Busch (172.629 mph) for the No. 1 starting spot by 0.260 seconds. Now Byron faces the more difficult task of converting a pole into a victory.
“It’s all about execution, I feel like,” Byron said. “It’s on me to know what I need throughout the race, and I feel like I’m starting to learn a little bit of what it takes for the last 100 laps, instead of the first 80, which we’ve been pretty good at.”
“It’s somewhat similar to the package that we ran in the Truck Series,” Byron said of the competition package that debuted in the Cup series this year. “I went back and watched that (2016) race. They had a good truck for me at KBM, and we won that race.
“So hopefully we can lean on some of those notes that we had there and some of the things that I wanted in the car to translate that into the race this weekend. I do have some confidence going into this race track. I feel like it’s a place that feels like home for me.”
Clint Bowyer qualified third, followed by Erik Jones, Brad Keselowski and Denny Hamlin, as Joe Gibbs Racing put three of its drivers in the top six. For Busch, the front-row start will be the first of his season.
Hamlin, who won twice from the pole at Pocono in his 2006 rookie season, simply hopes he can get through a race without the major issues that have plagued him recently.
“Just really want a smooth race from our standpoint,” said Hamlin, the 2019 Daytona 500 winner, who posted six top-fives in his first nine races before a rash of troubles knocked him down to seventh in the series standings.
“We’ve had blown tires and all kinds of crazy stuff happen. … If we have a smooth race, we know we’re going to have a good race, so we just hope to have a smooth one here and get back on the train we were on.”
Behind Hamlin on the grid, Kyle Larson, seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson, Daniel Suarez and Austin Dillon will start seventh through 10th, respectively. Defending race winner Martin Truex Jr. will go for his second-straight Cup victory from the 20th spot on the grid.
WILLIAM BYRON, NO. 24 HENDRICK AUTOGUARD CAMARO ZL1 PRESS CONF. TRANSCRIPT:
THIS IS A TRACK THAT HENDRICK MOTORSPORTS TYPICALLY RUNS WELL AT IN THE PAST. WITH THE MOMENTUM THAT SEEMS TO BE ON THE TEAM’S SIDE NOW, DOES THAT GIVE YOU ANY EXTRA BOOST GOING INTO THE RACE?
“For me, it does. I think just from past experience for myself last year, we had a pretty good run finishing sixth. We had to start from the back, but it will be easier this year starting up front. I feel like our car is hopefully going to maintain the speed that we had in qualifying, which is good. It’s an impound race, so there aren’t a lot of change that we can make and that’s a good thing for us. I feel like we’re in a good spot going into tomorrow.”
THIS IS YOUR THIRD POLE THIS SEASON AND OF YOUR CAREER. DID YOU DO ANYTHING THIS YEAR TO IMPROVE YOUR QUALIFYING?
“I don’t really think we did anything different. Our goal at the beginning of the year was to qualify better; that was one of Chad’s (Knaus) goals and one my goals as well because it improves your ability during the race to control your race. Last week was a 600 mile race, so it really didn’t matter where you started. This week, it does matter for pit strategy and things like that. That’s a good thing for us. I feel like we just focused on it and I also feel like single-car qualifying is helping me because that is what I grew up doing with late model and legend car racing. I always had one lap to get it right and I kind of like that. I would say those are the only two differences.”
WHAT ARE YOU AND YOUR TEAM GOING TO DO TO WORK ON MAKING THE RIGHT ADJUSTMENTS FOR THE RACE?
“It’s been a little difficult for us throughout the race to get the balance right; that comes from my communication and knowing at the start of the weekend what you’re going to need at the end of the race. I’m really just starting to learn that now because last year was just kind of a dog fight to run well. I think that this year, you can kind of focus on what you’re going to need at the end of the race and that’s what is going to pay off. That is something that we are trying to do; focus on what we are going to need at the end of the race.”
BEYOND JUST THE DIFFERENCE OF IT BEING AN IMPOUND RACE THIS WEEK, IS THERE ANYTHING ABOUT THIS WEEK THAT MAKES YOU FEEL DIFFERENT ABOUT HOW YOUR CAR WILL RACE FROM THE POLE COMPARED TO LAST WEEK?
“Last week, I knew qualifying was its own beast I guess because we had a completely different race car for qualifying with it being two days off from practice and it being a non-impound race. This week, I feel like it’s going to translate more. I’m more excited this week because I know what we had in qualifying trim is going to be similar to what we have in race trim. Last week, I knew our car was going to be completely different. That gives me some optimism for tomorrow.”
YOU HAVE A LOT OF SINGLE LAP SPEED, BUT HOW WAS YOUR CAR HANDLING IN PRACTICE AND WERE YOU ABLE TO DO ANY SIGNIFICANT LONG RUNS?
“We did a couple long runs, which are usually 10 to 15 laps here. I felt like we were OK; we hoovered around the top ten area. I think we made some good improvements overnight and that showed in qualifying. I think that’s going to translate to the race.”
KYLE BUSCH WAS SAYING THAT THIS WAS PROBABLY GOING TO BE THE TOUGHEST PLACE TO PASS ALL SEASON LONG. DOES THAT PUT ANY EXTRA EMPHASIS ON HAVING CLEAN AIR TO START THE RACE ON?
“I think it does, but ultimately how these races are, you are eventually going to be in that 10th to 12th range based on that strategy. You are going to have to have the speed to pass, whether that’s on restarts or not, that’s probably going to be the case. You are going to have to be back in dirty air at some point, but it does help having the number one pit stall and having the ability to use that to your advantage.”
SOME OF THE GUYS SAID THEY LOST SOME TIME IN TURN ONE. CAN YOU TALK ABOUT YOUR LAP?
“We were really loose yesterday; we were struggling to make laps at the beginning of practice. We really just worked on the car from there to get it snugged up, but still turning on exit. It’s kind of the typical issues you have, but I think we really nailed the qualifying balance. We progressively got our car better throughout practice, so that kind of gave me some confidence going into qualifying. Once I got through turn three coming to green, I kind of knew what I had and turn one was all about not over-rolling the center. As much speed that we are carrying into the corner now, it’s easy to overshoot the center and carry too much throttle. Once I got off turn one and knew that if I didn’t screw up in turn two, I’d be in pretty good shape. Turn two is relatively smooth and turn three was all about just getting back through the throttle and unwinding the wheel to make the straightaway longer. This place is kind of like a road course in the fact that you’re trying to make the straightaway as long as possible.”
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