RICHMOND -- Kyle Larson’s meteoric rise in the Sprint Cup Series continued Friday with an assist from Mother Nature. When qualifying for the Toyota Owners 400 was canceled because of rain, Larson earned the first pole of his Cup career because he had posted the fastest lap in the first practice on the three-quarters of a mile oval at Richmond International Raceway: 126.880 mph.
He will start on the front row with Brad Keselowski, whose fastest lap in the first practice was 126.192 mph. Starting third through 10th when the green flag drops Saturday night will be Clint Bowyer, Kasey Kahne, Kevin Harvick, Brian Vickers, Jamie McMurray, Martin Truex Jr., Paul Menard and Jimmie Johnson.
Asked if he would rather have won the pole through the usual qualifying method, Larson said, “Yeah, but I’m still happy with being on the pole. But yeah, it would be nice to get a legit pole.
“I don’t know if we would have gotten it had it not rained. I thought in Cup practice we were a top-five car. I’m definitely excited and I think getting the pole, even though it’s in practice, helps the confidence more. I’m looking forward to tomorrow.”
Brian Scott (Nationwide Series) and Nick Drake (K&N Pro Series East) won poles for the two races scheduled to be run at RIR on Friday. Both races were delayed by rain, starting too late to be included in this edition.
Waltz 2nd in Hamlin shootout
Langley Speedway Late Model star Matt Waltz came close to becoming the second Langley Speedway driver to win the Denny Hamlin Short Track Showdown in the past four years. Waltz led the first 195 of 200 laps at South Boston Speedway on Thursday, before being passed by and finishing second to Matt Bowling. Langley Late Model standout Nick Smith was third.
Waltz and brother Kyle Waltz began working on the car Wednesday. They changed the steering box, transmission, master cylinder and front control arms on the 2010 Chevy, which they hadn’t raced in two years. It was in great shape by Thursday, as Waltz won the pole and held off NASCAR Cup star Kyle Busch on repeated restarts to hold the lead.
He said that the car tightened up some following a two-tire change on the mandatory pit stop at lap 150. In retrospect, he wishes he’d freed the car some, but said it had run so well to that point he was hesitant to change it.
Among the NASCAR stars, Matt Kenseth was fifth, host Hamlin eighth, Busch ninth and David Reagan 20th.
“I didn’t really get nervous being around those guys,” Waltz said. “They’re race-car drivers like I am, just in a higher division.
“I’m proud that we won the pole, heat races, led all those laps and beat Kyle Busch on the restarts.”
Gray Gaulding made his first big splash racing a Legends Car at Langley Speedway as a 12-year-old. He bumped an older competitor aside in winning a race, then proclaimed to the crowd, “A man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do.”
Sixteen and approaching manhood, Gaulding also is on the cusp of stardom. He was selected on Friday as one of 10 “NASCAR Next” drivers, a program developed three years ago to identify and market future stars in the sport.
It’s alumni — which includes Kyle Larson, Chase Elliott, Darrell Wallace Jr. and Daniel Suarez — have won 10 national series races, 75 touring series races and four touring series championships.
Joining Gaulding in this year’s class are Cole Custer, Ruben Garcia, Ryan Gifford, Austin Hill, Erik Jones, Jesse Little, Dylan Lupton, Brandon McReynolds, Ryan Preece, Ben Rhodes and Kenzie Ruston.