Ryan Preece wins Cup pole at Martinsville; Chase Elliott 24th

MARTINSVILLE, Va. -- Ryan Preece put his No. 41 Ford on the pole for Sunday's Cup Series race at Martinsville Speedway, capping a strong day of qualifying for Stewart-Haas Racing.

All four SHR cars qualified in the top seven on Saturday.

Daniel Suarez and Preece's teammate, Aric Almirola, were tied for the best qualifying lap before Preece took the half-mile track last among the top-10 drivers in the final round and zipped around the paper clip-shaped course in 94.78 mph, besting the effort of 94.298 mph shared by Suarez and Almirola.

Because Suarez's team has the edge in car owner points over Almirola, he'll start second ahead of Almirola in third.

Chase Briscoe, also of SHR, qualified fourth, followed by Martin Truex Jr. Tyler Reddick will start sixth and SHR's Kevin Harvick seventh, with William Byron, Bubba Wallace and Chris Buescher rounding out the top 10.

Qualifying didn't go all that well for fan favorite Chase Elliott, who is returning from a six-week absence after suffering a broken leg in a snowboarding accident in Colorado. He will start 24th after brushing the wall on his second lap of qualifying.

Preece has not started higher than eighth place this season and has not finished better than 10th. He said he feels as if he and his SHR teammates have a strong chance to win Sunday.

"You guys see it, how important track position is nowadays, and whether you have control of the race or track position, you can't give it up because it is so, so difficult to pass," Preece said. "So from a company standpoint, it certainly makes us all very optimistic about Sunday. We can be smart and all have good days. And I think it shows that our short track program is really good."

Added Briscoe: "A really good start to the weekend for the company as a whole to have all four cars in the top 10 is something that we haven't been able to say in a really long time. We know the short tracks are where we need to capitalize, and I think this is a great way to start the weekend."

The 32-year-old Preece won his first Modified race at Martinsville, so he feels comfortable here.

"It is a place that suits my style," Preece said.

The only other time Preece started on the pole was in 2020, at the Toyota 500 at Darlington Raceway. But that was because of a field inversion based on the previous week's results.

Elliott's return to racing didn't get off to a great start. He hasn't raced since finishing second at Fontana on Feb. 26.

"It actually felt pretty good," Elliott said. "I had an abysmal qualifying lap, but I can't blame my leg on that one. I had a pretty good last and then messed up."

He then quipped, "Judging off of practice, starting in the back is going to be a lot of fun."

NASCAR points leader Christopher Bell, who won last week's short track race at Bristol Motor Speedway, will start 22nd.