NASCAR & Auto Racing

Charlotte native William Byron becomes youngest pole winner for Coca-Cola 600

Not bad for 21 years old, huh?

On Thursday, Charlotte native William Byron won the pole for the 60th running of the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Byron makes history as the youngest driver to ever win the pole for the crown jewel race.

“This is a dream come true,” Byron said after qualifying. “Obviously I grew up in Charlotte and came to this race every year. So, it’s a dream come true to qualify on the pole with Hendrick Motorsports just across the street and all the hard work and everybody at Chevrolet giving us fast race cars.

“I can’t think of a better way to start the weekend.”

Byron also won the pole for the season-opening Daytona 500, and he’s sat on the front row for three other races, too.

Behind Byron, Aric Almirola qualified second and reigning 600 champion Kyle Busch came third. Austin Dillon, who won the 600 in 2017, and Kevin Harvick, who has won the race twice, rounded out the top 5 in fourth and fifth, respectively.

But beyond qualifying, there was plenty of off-track action at CMS on Thursday. The highlights:

NASCAR revealed its 2020 Hall of Fame class on Wednesday, and as the reigning Cup Series champion, Joey Logano got to be part of the voting conversation — although, that didn’t mean he necessary felt like it was his place to do so.

“I felt a little out of place, to be honest with you,” he said. “There were some legends in that room and some real Hall of Famers that have been around for a long time. I really enjoyed that part and listening to everybody’s reasoning. Everyone has the opportunity to stand up and say why they think a particular person belongs in the Hall of Fame, and everyone has different reasonings why.”

Hall of Fame driver and longtime Fox Sports broadcaster Darrell Waltrip announced his retirement from NASCAR earlier this year, meaning this will be his final race at Charlotte. Waltrip spoke to the Observer on Wednesday about coming to the end of his time in racing before addressing it Thursday in the media center at the speedway.

Speedway Motorsports, which owns CMS, honored Waltrip with a special trophy for his record-five 600 victories.

“You have trophies, you have championships, you have wins, but friends are what really make the difference,” Waltrip said. “(SMI President and CEO Marcus Smith) has been a great friend to me for a long time. Bruton Smith has been one of my heroes since I started racing in NASCAR in 1972.

“It was a pleasure racing here all those years, but it’s been even more of a pleasure to cover these races here for the last 19 years.”

Former NASCAR driver Darrell Waltrip clutches the Bruton Smith Trophy he received Thursday at Charlotte Motor Speedway for being the winningest Coca-Cola 600 driver. Waltrip, who is retiring as a Fox Sports analyst after this season, won the race five times during his Hall of Fame career. Jeff Siner

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One of the hot topics of discussion this week has been whether NASCAR still needs a 600-mile race on the Cup schedule. While these races used to test the limits of automotive engineering, engine failures and blown motors are much less common nowadays. Still, 2012 Cup champion Brad Keselowski said the 600 should remain as a staple on the schedule.

“As far as running 600 miles, we don’t need to do anything in this sport, but just because you don’t need to do something doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do something,” he said. “I think it’s the right thing to do, to run this race as 600 miles and to keep that tradition going. Like I said, it’s unique challenges. The biggest thing this sport needs is to stay fresh and this race is a different challenge than anything else we have by a good bit, and I appreciate that so much about this race.”

Keselowski also mentioned that he thought Hendrick Motorsports currently has the best cars in the garage. HMS certainly has rebounded somewhat from its poor form last year and earlier in 2019, most notably with Chase Elliott winning Talladega and Alex Bowman finishing second in the past three races. Byron addressed that notion before qualifying on Thursday.

“I feel like we’re catching up, for sure,” Byron said. “I feel like it’s probably the closest it’s been in a while, and I feel like we’re starting to be right in that mix.”

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As for the chances of Kyle Busch repeating in this year’s 600? Last year’s race officially made him the first driver to win at every active track on the Cup Series.

“That would certainly be the goal and all of our aspirations here for this weekend,” he said. “We’ve certainly unloaded pretty close.”

Thursday’s Qualifying

(Car number in parentheses)

1. (24) William Byron, Chevrolet, 183.424 mph.

2. (10) Aric Almirola, Ford, 183.069.

3. (18) Kyle Busch, Toyota, 182.933.

4. (3) Austin Dillon, Chevrolet, 182.766.

5. (4) Kevin Harvick, Ford, 182.741.

6. (41) Daniel Suarez, Ford, 182.710.

7. (22) Joey Logano, Ford, 182.679.

8. (14) Clint Bowyer, Ford, 182.667.

9. (17) Ricky Stenhouse Jr, Ford, 182.661.

10. (8) Daniel Hemric, Chevrolet, 182.506.

11. (1) Kurt Busch, Chevrolet, 182.414.

12. (9) Chase Elliott, Chevrolet, 182.346.

13. (88) Alex Bowman, Chevrolet, 182.322.

14. (19) Martin Truex Jr, Toyota, 182.297.

15. (48) Jimmie Johnson, Chevrolet, 182.131.

16. (20) Erik Jones, Toyota, 182.082.

17. (21) Paul Menard, Ford, 181.830.

18. (6) Ryan Newman, Ford, 181.598.

19. (12) Ryan Blaney, Ford, 181.452.

20. (11) Denny Hamlin, Toyota, 181.372.

21. (2) Brad Keselowski, Ford, 181.324.

22. (37) Chris Buescher, Chevrolet, 181.311.

23. (34) Michael McDowell, Ford, 181.311.

24. (47) Ryan Preece, Chevrolet, 180.971.

25. (42) Kyle Larson, Chevrolet, 180.953.

26. (36) Matt Tifft, Ford, 180.270.

27. (95) Matt DiBenedetto, Toyota, 180.132.

28. (13) Ty Dillon, Chevrolet, 180.102.

29. (43) Bubba Wallace, Chevrolet, 179.964.

30. (32) Corey LaJoie, Ford, 179.354.

31. (38) David Ragan, Ford, 178.489.

32. (00) Landon Cassill, Chevrolet, 177.754.

33. (52) Bayley Currey, Ford, 177.416.

34. (96) Parker Kligerman, Toyota, 177.223.

35. (15) Ross Chastain, Chevrolet, 176.667.

36. (53) BJ McLeod, Chevrolet, 174.752.

37. (27) Reed Sorenson, Chevrolet, 174.503.

38. (51) Cody Ware, Ford, 169.747.

39. (77) Quin Houff, Chevrolet, 169.030.

40. (66) Joey Gase, Toyota, 168.439.

NASCAR driver Kyle Busch prepares for practice at Charlotte Motor Speedway on Thursday, May 23, 2019. Jeff Siner
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Brendan Marks is a general assignment sports reporter for the Charlotte Observer covering the Carolina Panthers, Charlotte Hornets, NASCAR and more. He graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and has worked for the Observer since August 2017.
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