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Charge from back nets Cole Custer first pole on Bristol Dirt

Sportsnaut
Mar 27, 2022; Austin, Texas, USA; NASCAR Cup Series driver Cole Custer (41) before the start of the EchoPark Automotive Texas Grand Prix at Circuit of the Americas. Mandatory Credit: Mike Dinovo-USA TODAY Sports
Credit: Mike Dinovo-USA TODAY Sports

BRISTOL, Tenn. — Cole Custer charged from ninth to second in the first of four 15-lap qualifying heat races on Saturday to earn the pole position for Sunday night’s Food City Dirt Race at the Bristol Motor Speedway Dirt track (7 p.m. ET on FOX, PRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).

Custer surged from fifth to second moments after a restart with six laps left in the qualifying race. He finished second to Tyler Reddick, who took the lead from Ross Chastain on Lap 5.

Custer scored 16 points under a format that combines passing points with points scored based on finishing position. In earning his first career NASCAR Cup Series Busch Light pole, Custer scored nine points for his runner-up run and seven passing points for advancing from ninth to second.

“The guys did a great job guessing right on the track,” Custer said. “It’s so much different than practice, and we hit on it. It’s just awesome, first career pole, I never thought I’d get my first career pole at a dirt race.”

Dirt track ace Christopher Bell will start from the outside of the front row after winning the second heat from the fifth starting position. Bell worked the bottom of the track adroitly and passed Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Kyle Busch for the lead on Lap 10.

Bell earned 14 points for his effort to edge Reddick, who won the first heat from the fourth starting spot, worth 13 points. Reddick will start third with Chase Briscoe, Custer’s Stewart-Haas Racing teammate to his outside.

Briscoe started seventh and finished third in Qualifying Race No. 2 to earn 12 points. Kyle Larson, whose dirt track resume includes victories in the Chili Bowl Nationals, Knoxville Nationals and Kings Royal, among others, earned the fifth starting position in an owner points tiebreaker over Justin Haley (sixth) and Ty Dillon (seventh), who won the third and fourth heats, respectively, both from second on the grid.

“I feel like we had the toughest heat race,” said Larson, who started sixth and came home third in Heat 4. “I was happy to get to third. My car doesn’t feel bad. The track will go through a lot of changes tomorrow, so just keep up with that and adjust your driving style accordingly.”

Alex Bowman, series leader Chase Elliott and defending race winner Joey Logano claimed the final three starting spots in the top 10.

Difference in Bristol Dirt from 2021 to 2022? Like night and day

To hear Ryan Blaney tell it, there’s not a lot of continuity between the Food City Dirt Race from 2021 and the one scheduled this year on Easter Sunday (7 p.m. ET on FOX, PRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).

In the first place, this year’s event will take place at night, rather than during daylight hours. And Sunday’s race also will feature NASCAR’s Next Gen Cup Series race car, which has features that weren’t part of the Gen 6 version that raced in 2021 — including a five-speed sequential transmission, rack-and-pinion steering and an independent rear suspension.

Accordingly, the notebooks drivers and crew chiefs built last year won’t have a great degree of relevance when it comes to racing on Sunday night.

“The car is obviously different,” Blaney said on Friday during a question-and-answer session in the Bristol Motor Speedway media center. “The tire is way different. The tire is way better this year, honestly. It’s got way more grip, and you can actually drive it more, so I don’t know if you can compare much like car-to-car, setup-to-setup.

“But just knowing the trends of how the race went last year, maybe that applies to this year, so you try to look at the trends of the race track and all that. But the track is a lot smoother than what it was last year, so that’s nice. There’s not a lot you can compare.”

Blaney spun during the first qualifying heat on Saturday, finished sixth and will start 25th in Sunday’s race.

Short Strokes

NASCAR announced Saturday that Pinty’s Delicious Foods has extended its entitlement sponsorship of Canada’s largest national motorsports series for five years, through 2026. Pinty’s first took over the naming rights of the NASCAR Pinty’s Series in 2016, after entering the sport as a contingency sponsor in 2012 …

Speedway Motorsports, Inc., president and chief operating officer Marcus Smith announced the revival of North Wilkesboro Speedway, which will host a series of events in August on the old .625-mile asphalt, followed by dirt-track racing in October after the asphalt has been removed. The plan is to repave the short track in 2023, with an eye toward hosting a NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race there — perhaps in 2024. NASCAR last raced at North Wilkesboro in 1996.

–By Reid Spencer, NASCAR Wire Service. Special to Field Level Media.