By Matt Crider, Staff Writer
FORT WORTH, Texas — The second round of NASCAR’s Cup Series playoff starts Sunday at Texas Motor Speedway, and drivers below and near the elimination line got off to a fast start Saturday in qualifying.
Bubba Wallace, last in the 12-driver playoff field to start the three-week round, picked up his second career pole with a lap of 188.337 mph in the No. 23 Toyota for 23XI Racing.
“I held it wide open — SMT [car data] even, I’m pretty sure it should say so. I know I didn’t lift,” Wallace said. “I’m going for it, only because I really, really thought I botched [Turns] 1 and 2. See, there’s my thought process — I’m trying too hard. I was ahead, but you don’t know that, right? You’re just going off of feel.”
Wallace talked about how his approach to racing mirrors his off-track experience.
“Qualifying, I tend to try too hard and overthink things,” Wallace said. “That’s my problem with life. I need to stop doing that; I need to just go out and ‘do.’
“You have to live in the moment and conquer every moment,” he said. “Just step up to the plate and deliver, and that’s what this team has done today.”
Wallace said he tries to stay on an even keel to regulate life’s highs and lows.
“It’s trauma, right? You have a lot of things go great and then it’s ripped out from underneath you,” he said. “Everybody experiences that, but the fall may be harder for others than some.
“My wife got annoyed with me saying it, but my favorite saying of late is, like, ‘It’s always something. Whether it’s good or bad, it’s always something.’”
Wallace’s previous pole was last year at Michigan, where he finished second to Kevin Harvick in the race.
“I knew for qualifying that I really needed to step up ‘cause I knew the car was there, and the rest speaks for itself,” Wallace said Saturday.
Qualifying second at TMS was Prosper, Texas, native Chris Buescher, who trailed Wallace by 0.039 seconds. Both drivers thought they lost time on the same part of the track.
“Felt like I messed up 1 and 2 a little bit, so I’m glad to have the speed in our Fastenal Mustang,” Buescher said. “I’m happy with that start, and happy to do it with a hometown crowd.”
Buescher enters the Autotrader EchoPark Automotive 400 fifth in the standings, 10 points above the cut line, while Wallace is 14 below. The playoff field will be trimmed to eight drivers after TMS, Talladega and the Charlotte road course.
Buescher is having a career year and performing at the right time, with his three victories on the campaign coming in the last eight races. Before this season, he had two Cup wins.
“You always want to be competitive every week and be fighting for wins,” Buescher said. “You can show up and people dread seeing your hauler roll in. That’s fun and has been for a long time, and I haven’t quite gotten to experience that in a little while.
“Now we go to the racetrack and we know we’ve got chances to win races wherever we go, and it’s fun to see that mentality spread throughout the shop.”
On the opposite end of Denton County from TMS lies the western portion of Prosper, which drew a mention from NBC Sports announcers after Buescher’s first win of the year.
“The stat from Richmond — the 30,000 population — that was news to me,” Buescher said of his hometown. “2,600-2,800 people was (sic) on the sign when I was there. At this point, I am many years, 15 years, removed from there but still miss it in a lot of ways.
“It’s wild to see the growth there, how different it is.”
Buescher’s teammate and co-owner at Roush Fenway Keselowski Racing, Brad Keselowski, qualified third, and Ross Chastain was fifth. Keselowski and Chastain are three points below the cut line. Kyle Busch (eight points above) qualified seventh and Christopher Bell (plus five) was ninth.
The tricky end of the track came up again when Kyle Larson was asked about possible improvements to TMS.
“I don’t really think there’s anything you can do. (Turns) 1 and 2 is the corner that I think needs the most help,” Larson said. “I don’t have the answers. Don’t put dirt on it, though.”
Larson, two points ahead of Buescher in fourth place, qualified 11th in the No. 5 Chevrolet.
They’ll all follow Wallace to the green flag.
“It’s just qualifying, it doesn’t pay anything. Looks good on paper,” Wallace said. “This track is very treacherous. We have the best track position right now, but we know with strategy everything’s going to change and going to evolve and we’re going to get behind at some point, so it’s just a matter of making the most of every situation we’re in.”