For the second week in a row, Hendrick Motorsports qualified 1-2 for the start of the Food City 500. Chase Elliott’s pole position is the 8th different driver to claim pole in eight races this season. After falling short last week at Texas, can the Hendrick team come up with their first win of the season?
Ryan Blaney was the favorite to obtain his first pole position of the season after dominating the second qualifying session on Friday with blistering pace. Unfortunately for Blaney, a slip up during his round three run left the fourth-year full time driver staring third behind Chase Elliott. Blaney said of his 3rd round effort,
“Got greedy into [turn] 3 and missed it.”
Blaney will look to be on top of his game in order to come out on top for the first time this season. He has looked a threat throughout the 2019 season but has continually come up short. That is certainly not to say that this season has been a disappointment, he has managed three top five finishes thus far.
William Byron, on the other hand, will strive to build momentum after his first top 10 finish last week at Texas. It was also the second week in a row that the young driver qualified second. He has looked a great deal stronger this season as he continues to attempt to fill in the large shoes left by Jeff Gordon in the #24 car.
The most defining achievement in qualifying for Chase Elliott in his still young career is this weeks pole. As noted by Jim Utter at Motorsport.com, this is the first time that Elliott obtained a pole outside of a Superspeedway. However, Chase acknowledged that he may have gotten lucky with his pole position on Friday,
“I think Ryan [Blaney] threw me a bone.”
This qualifying effort highlights a marked improvement for the entire Hendrick Motorsport crew. The overall struggle for the team over the past couple of seasons has slowly become an afterthought. Since the green flag at Daytona, Hendrick has approached this season with aggressive yet strategic composure.
A disappointment from Friday’s qualifying is courtesy of the Busch brothers. Both drivers will find themselves starting outside the top 15 come Sunday. However, it would be naive to rule either driver out. Kyle Busch has an impressive seven victories at the famous short track. His brother has six victories at Bristol with his most recent coming just last season during the fall race.
Darrell Waltrip mentioned during the end of Friday’s qualifying that the starting front two rows boast an average age of just under 23 years old. It is representative of the prodigious quality of the drivers that will be dominating the series for years to come.
Bristol has always been one of the most exciting tracks on the circuit, and the prospect of having another team other then Team Penske or Joe Gibbs Racing claim victory would be refreshing. Starting position and the chance to gain an upper hand with an advantageous pit spot will garner the expectation for a win.
Drivers must employ the right combination of patience and aggressiveness in order to claim victory. Yet, it would be remiss to forget the importance of the speed and efficiency of his pit crew and crew chief.The Food City 500 will get underway at 2:00 pm on Sunday and will air on FS1. Many story lines will develop throughout the grueling 500 laps at the famous 1/2 mile track.