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Kyle Larson prevails in closely contested Bristol qualifying

BRISTOL, Tenn. – Kyle Larson, a close second to Kyle Busch in the 2018 spring race at Bristol Motor Speedway, took the first step toward avenging that loss-and a handful of others-with a pole-winning effort in Friday’s Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series knockout qualifying session at the .533-mile short track.

In the final round, Larson covered the distance in 15.015 seconds (127.792 mph) to complete a sweep of the three rounds in the session.

In winning his first Busch Pole Award at Thunder Valley, his third of the season and the seventh of his career, Larson edged Chase Elliott (127.665 mph) by .015 seconds to earn the top starting spot in Saturday’s Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race (6:30 p.m. on NBCSN, PRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).

Kyle Busch, a seven-time winner at Bristol, qualified third at 127.639 mph. Paul Menard was fourth and Suncoco Rookie of the Year contender William Byron fifth in a session so tightly contested that the top five qualifiers were separated by a mere .028 seconds.

Byron posted his final-round time first, 15.043 seconds, good for 127.554 mph. Larson took notice.

“I saw William run his ’04’ there, and I was like, ‘That’s going to be pretty tough to beat,'” said Larson, who ran his best lap (127.946 mph) in the No. 42 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet in the first round. “I would have never thought that three other guys would squeeze in between him and I for first and second. It just shows how tough our sport is and our series is.

“But our DC Solar Chevy has been really good all day. I felt a little off in the first practice, but we got it going in the second practice, and then it was fast in every round of qualifying. It’s my favorite track. We have yet to get a win here. We’ve been close so many times. I feel like Kyle (Busch) and I are two best here, but he always seems to edge me out.”

In fact, in NASCAR Xfinity and Cup series races at all tracks combined, Larson and Busch have finished 1-2 eight times. Busch has won all eight of those contests.

“Hopefully, this weekend’s a little different,” Larson said.

Elliott was disappointed at losing the pole-and the No. 1 pit stall that goes with it-by such a small margin.

“You have to be really close to perfect, if not perfect here,” Elliott said. “It’s so hard to be good for 500 laps, but that’s what it takes.

“I really wanted that first pit box. That makes such a huge difference here. If there’s any place that it makes a difference, it’s here.”

Kevin Harvick, Denny Hamlin, Aric Almirola, Kurt Busch and Ryan Blaney claimed positions six through 10 on the grid, respectively.

Brad Keselowski qualified 11th and Ricky Stenhouse Jr., who needs a victory in the next three races to qualify for the Playoffs, grabbed the 12th starting spot.

Notes: Ford drivers claimed seven of the top 12 starting positions… Jimmie Johnson failed to advance to the final round by .001 seconds, losing out to Stenhouse… The fifth-place effort was the best of Byron’s fledgling Cup career… Alex Bowman, currently protecting the final Playoff berth on points, scraped the outside wall in the second round of qualifying and will start 22nd.

— NASCAR Wire Service —