<
>

NASCAR at Bristol: Starting lineup breakdown

play
Kyle Larson wins the pole for Saturday and seeks his first Cup (0:32)

Kyle Larson wins the pole for Saturday and seeks his first Cup victory at Bristol. He assesses his chances: Video by Bob Pockrass (0:32)

BRISTOL, Tenn. -- Kyle Larson doesn't feel he has to win in the next three races to carry momentum into the NASCAR Cup series playoffs.

He sits 10th in the standings and has a 42-point edge on the next driver (Aric Almirola) on the playoff grid. Even three upsets during the next three races wouldn't knock Larson out of the playoffs unless he loses that lead over Almirola.

Larson starts from the pole Saturday night at Bristol Motor Speedway and probably doesn't see that happening.

"It's always important to win," Larson said. "Obviously, it's not a must to win. We're basically locked in the playoffs. ... I also view Bristol as being my best opportunity to get some playoff points.

"I feel like we can win both stages and win the race, not easily, but this is our best shot. Five to seven [playoff] points would be huge."

By winning the pole, Larson will have the best pit stall, something that Chase Elliott, starting second, said is a huge advantage.

"Our car always has been fast here and I have a lot of confidence," Larson said. "I've proven that I have a lot of speed here. I've still yet to get that win.

"If we can just have a nice, clean day, we can definitely have a solid run."

Larson doesn't have any playoff points to help cushion any hiccups in the playoffs.

"Of everybody that's in the playoffs, I'm the only one that doesn't have any playoff points," Larson said. "That part is a little frustrating but makes you a little more nervous when it comes to the playoffs."

Actually, three drivers -- Larson, Jimmie Johnson and Alex Bowman -- don't have playoff points, but you get the picture.

While he feels his cars drive OK, Larson said he seems to struggle at the tracks that frustrated him in his first couple of years of Cup racing. Last year, he felt his team was strong everywhere.

But even at Michigan last week, he said he was running some of the top lap times but a loose wheel in the second run of the race and later contact with another car mired him in traffic. So a potential good day made it look like he struggled the entire afternoon.

"I feel like we're not that bad, but we have had a little bit of bad luck that cost us finishes where we deserve the last few weeks," Larson said.

Also last week, the speculation increased on whether Jamie McMurray would return next year. Larson has never let any team chatter influence him.

"I'm focused on this season and what we're doing trying to make a run for the championship," Larson said. "At the same time, it's our team and teammate. In a way, it does affect us for the future. But as far as this year goes, it doesn't affect myself or our team."

Here is the breakdown of the lineup for the Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race:

1. Kyle Larson (Chip Ganassi Racing No. 42 Chevrolet): He led 200 laps but finished second behind Kyle Busch in April. He also led 202 laps in the April 2017 race.

2. Chase Elliott (Hendrick Motorsports No. 9 Chevrolet): Elliott enjoyed a strong first Cup race at Bristol as he finished fourth. Since then? Just one top 10.

3. Kyle Busch (Joe Gibbs Racing No. 18 Toyota): Busch owns 21 wins at Bristol, seven in Cup, nine in Xfinity and five in truck. He has won the past two Cup races at Bristol; he had wrecked out of each of the previous three.

4. Paul Menard (Wood Brothers Racing No. 21 Ford): He seeks his first Bristol top 10 since August 2014.

5. William Byron (Hendrick Motorsports No. 24 Chevrolet): Byron was 18th in his first Cup race at Bristol in April.

6. Kevin Harvick (Stewart-Haas Racing No. 4 Ford): Harvick and Matt Kenseth are the only two at-least-40-year-old drivers in the past 20 years to record seven wins in a season.

7. Denny Hamlin (Joe Gibbs Racing No. 11 Toyota): Hamlin has finished third in each of the past three August races at Bristol. So do you pick him to finish third or avoid third at all costs?

8. Aric Almirola (Stewart-Haas Racing No. 10 Ford): Sixth at Bristol in April, Almirola hopes this is a time where his team can build on notes from earlier in the year.

9. Kurt Busch (Stewart-Haas Racing No. 41 Ford): Busch won three straight at Bristol in 2003-04 and five of nine races from 2002-2006, but he has just two top-five finishes in his past seven Bristol starts.

10. Ryan Blaney (Team Penske No. 12 Ford): Blaney has started in the top 10 in his past four races at Bristol but finished in the top 10 only once.

11. Brad Keselowski (Team Penske No. 2 Ford): Keselowski surprisingly is looking for his first win of the season. He loves Bristol, but it hasn't loved him back recently, with no finish better than 18th in his past five starts.

12. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (Roush Fenway Racing No. 17 Ford): Why does Stenhouse consider this his best opportunity to win? His average finish at Bristol is 10.2, his best of any track, and his four top fives ties his best at any track (Talladega being the other).

13. Jimmie Johnson (Hendrick Motorsports No. 48 Chevrolet): Johnson has an average finish of 18.6 and just one top 10 in the nine races leading into Bristol. The good news? He has an average finish of 8.2 in his past nine Bristol starts.

14. Erik Jones (Joe Gibbs Racing No. 20 Toyota): A year ago, he led 260 laps and finished second. Expect him to be stout Saturday night.

15. David Ragan (Front Row Motorsports No. 38 Ford): He's been solid at Bristol in recent trips. He has back-to-back top 20s (17th and 12th) at Bristol.

16. Clint Bowyer (Stewart-Haas Racing No. 14 Ford): He has a 31st and a 19th in his past two August races at Bristol but a second and an eighth in his past two April races.

17. Martin Truex Jr. (Furniture Row Racing No. 78 Toyota): Truex has just one top-10 finish in his past 12 starts at Bristol. His average finish in those races? 22.3.

18. Austin Dillon (Richard Childress Racing No. 3 Chevrolet): A strong top-five finish last week at Michigan was a big boost to this team. It is finding speed.

19. Joey Logano (Team Penske No. 22 Ford): Logano won the 2014 and 2015 August races at Bristol. Until this qualifying result, it wouldn't have been surprising if he added a third win.

20. Jamie McMurray (Chip Ganassi Racing No. 1 Chevrolet): Time is running out for McMurray to make the playoffs. He hasn't led a lap at Bristol in his past seven starts.

21. Daniel Suarez (Joe Gibbs Racing No. 19 Toyota): He has finished second twice in Xfinity at Bristol but seeks his first top 10 in a Cup car at the track.

22. Alex Bowman (Hendrick Motorsports No. 88 Chevrolet): He was fifth in April, showing that he could perform well in this ride.

23. Trevor Bayne (Roush Fenway Racing No. 6 Ford): Bayne enjoys racing in his home state, and this could be his last chance in a decent car. He was seventh in this race a year ago.

24. Ryan Newman (Richard Childress Racing No. 31 Chevrolet): Newman has back-to-back top 10s at Bristol and top 10s in five of his past seven Bristol starts.

25. AJ Allmendinger (JTG Daugherty Racing No. 47 Chevrolet): He finished ninth in this race two years ago but hasn't finished better than 17th in his past three Bristol starts.

26. Kasey Kahne (Leavine Family Racing No. 95 Chevrolet): Kahne doesn't have a top 10 at Bristol in his past eight starts. He probably won't miss this place much if he never returns.

27. Bubba Wallace (Richard Petty Motorsports No. 43 Chevrolet): He led six laps -- the first laps he had led in a Cup car -- and finished 16th in April.

28. Chris Buescher (JTG Daugherty Racing No. 37 Chevrolet): Buescher has failed to finish two of the past three Cup races at Bristol.

29. Matt DiBenedetto (Go Fas Racing No. 32 Ford): One of his career highlights was a sixth at Bristol in April 2016.

30. Corey LaJoie (TriStar Motorsports No. 72 Chevrolet): LaJoie has finishes of 24th, 28th and 25th at Bristol.

31. Michael McDowell (Front Row Motorsports No. 34 Ford): McDowell started ninth in April and had so much hope but ended up in a crash just nine laps into the race and finished 38th. Surprising that McDowell struggled so much in qualifying Friday.

32. Ty Dillon (Germain Racing No. 13 Chevrolet): Dillon has struggled in a Cup car at Bristol, with just one top-20 finish in four starts.

33. Jesse Little (Gaunt Brothers Racing No. 96 Toyota): Little has two career truck starts at Bristol, including a 13th-place finish.

34. J.J. Yeley (Premium Motorsports No. 7 Chevrolet): It will be a long day at Bristol as Yeley tries to earn a top-30 finish.

35. Ross Chastain (Premium Motorsports No. 15 Chevrolet): As he fights for a spot in the Xfinity playoffs, he's enjoying the extra track time that Cup provides.

36. Reed Sorenson (Rick Ware Racing No. 51 Chevrolet): Sorenson making his 10th start this year but first under the Rick Ware Racing banner.

37. Timmy Hill (Carl Long Motorsports No. 66 Toyota): Hill probably just hopes he doesn't lose a battery this week. Ty Dillon hopes that, too.

38. Gray Gaulding (StarCom Racing No. 99 Chevrolet): Gaulding got this car in the show. Team manager Derrike Cope will drive it in two weeks at Darlington.

39. Landon Cassill (StarCom Racing No. 00 Chevrolet): He was 20th at Bristol in April; another top 20 isn't out of the question.

40. Blake Jones (BK Racing No. 23 Toyota): The BK Racing employees are bracing for this to be their last weekend, with the sale of the team expected next week.

Did not qualify: B.J. McLeod (Rick Ware Racing No. 52 Chevrolet)