DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Reigning NASCAR Xfinity Series champion Tyler Reddick got his title defense off to a fast start Saturday morning by topping qualifying for the season-opening NASCAR Racing Experience 300.
Reddick toured Daytona Int’l Speedway in 47.604 seconds (189.060 mph) with his No. 2 Pinnacle Financial Partners Chevrolet to earn Richard Childress Racing its fifth-straight February pole at the World Center of Racing.
Making Reddick’s run even more impressive was the fact that he made the entire 2.5 miles with a deflating tire, meaning that after changing the tire he’ll start at the tail of Saturday afternoon’s race.
“I wasn’t really worried about my safety during that lap with the tire. I was just worried that if something happened, we’d tear a great car up,” said Reddick, who moved to RCR in the offseason. “This Pinnacle Financal Services Chevy is really fast and when Randall (Burnett, crew chief) told me yesterday that we were going to be in contention for the pole, I didn’t know what to think. Our car handled really good in the draft, but it obviously got a lot of speed in it too. This thing is just a rocket ship.
“I’m just excited to be here over at RCR,” Reddick added. “It’s really cool for us and this group in our first outing to get a pole and keep the streak alive for getting a pole in the Daytona openers for RCR. These guys at ECR (Engines) build some great motors. It’s just a privilege to be here in the team’s 50th year.”
The 23-year-old Corning, Calif., native won last year’s season opener by .0004 of a second over Elliott Sadler in the closest finish in NASCAR history. He’s hoping for another victory later in the day.
“We won last year in the first race of the year, and we’re starting off strong again this season,” Reddick noted. “It’s always nice to start the year off with a pole and build some morale, but obviously the big prize is at the end of 300 miles this afternoon. We’ll have to pace ourselves coming from the back, but if we can stay out of trouble, we can be there at the end with a shot to go to victory lane.”
Joining Reddick on the front row is Jeffrey Earnhardt, who posted a time of 47.703 seconds (188.667 mph) in the final round in his first appearance for Joe Gibbs Racing.
Michael Annett timed in third-fastest in a JR Motorsports Chevrolet, with Kaulig Racing rookie Justin Haley starting fourth and Gray Gaulding filling the top five for Bobby Dotter’s SS Green Light Racing.
Ross Chastain, Chase Elliott, Ryan Sieg, Brad Keselowski, Chase Briscoe, Christopher Bell and Caesar Bacarella were the rest of the drivers who made it to the final round of knockout qualifying.
With a myriad of upsets inside the top 12, Team Penske’s Austin Cindric was the first driver who failed to transfer out of round one, lapping in 48.216 seconds (186.660 mph) with the No. 12 Fitzgerald Ford.
Other notables starting deep in the field include GMS Racing’s John Hunter Nemechek (14th), the JR Motorsports duo of Justin Allgaier (15th) and Noah Gragson (18th), and the Stewart-Haas Racing Ford of Cole Custer, who was actually the slowest driver in the first round and will start last in the 38-car field.
Custer explained afterward that his issues were engine-related and he’ll have a fresh bullet for the race.
“Once we pulled in the garage, the car had a bit of a vibration, and when we tried to fire it up back in here the engine wasn’t running well,” Custer noted. “We’re going to try and change the motor. It’s a little weird. We didn’t have any signs of something like this happening, but it’s just racing sometimes.
“It’s fine, though. We’ll start from the back and work our way forward. It’s Daytona, after all.”
The NASCAR Racing Experience 300 is scheduled for a 2:30 p.m. start, live on FS1, MRN and SiriusXM.
To view complete qualifying results, advance to the next page.