BRISTOL, Tenn. – William Byron and Chase Elliott earned top-seven starting spots for Saturday night’s race at Bristol Motor Speedway. This race serves as the Round of 16 finale in the playoffs and the start time was moved up an hour to 6:30 p.m. ET.
Byron qualified third in the No. 24 Relay Payments Chevrolet Camaro ZL1, with a fast lap of 126.345 mph in the final round of qualifying. This is his 11th starting spot inside the top five in 2023. In eight starts at Bristol, the 25-year-old driver has two top-five finishes and three top-10s. He has back-to-back third-place finishes in the Bristol night race. Byron is plus-41 to the elimination line with one race left in the Round of 16.
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Elliott lines up seventh in the No. 9 NAPA Gold Filters Chevrolet Camaro ZL1. His lap of 125.914 mph earned him a spot in row four and his ninth top-10 starting spot of the season. In 12 starts at Bristol, the 27-year-old driver has four top-five finishes, six top-10s and 439 laps led, which are his third-most at any Cup Series track. Elliott’s record in the night race is pretty solid with four top-seven finishes in the last five events. He comes into Saturday’s race with three straight top-10 results on the season and the No. 9 team is plus-12 to the elimination line to advance in the owner playoffs.
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Alex Bowman is set to take the grid from the 13th position in the No. 48 Ally Chevrolet Camaro ZL1. The 30-year-old driver has two top-five finishes and three top-10s in his eight starts at the Tennessee track with Hendrick Motorsports. He enters this race with three top 10s in his last five 2023 races. In a Friday appearance on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio, Bowman discussed what he hopes to accomplish in the closing stretch of eight races.
"Just trying to end the year on a high note," Bowman said. "I think we can still end with positive momentum. (We) still go to a lot of good racetracks for us and places that I can feel like we have a shot of winning. Looking forward to the next handful of races. There’s no better to place to be on Saturday night than Bristol (Motor Speedway). It is going to be a heck of a race and it’s a trophy that we all want, so hopefully we can make it happen."
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Kyle Larson had a moment in the middle of turns three and four where his No. 5 Valvoline Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 got really loose. He made a great save but will start 36th. In 14 starts at Bristol, the 31-year-old driver has a win (in 2021), four top-five finishes and nine top 10s. In his last eight starts at the 0.533-mile track, he has finished inside the top 10 in all but one of those. His 850 laps led are his second-most at any track on the circuit. Larson is already locked into the Round of 12 by his win at Darlington Raceway in the playoff opener.
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All four Hendrick Motorsports cars were in the top 10 in practice. Larson led the way in group practice (126.353 mph), while Elliott was seventh (124.792 mph), Byron finished eighth (124.678 mph) and Bowman came in ninth (124.630 mph). Larson had the best five-lap consecutive average. Byron had the third-best 10-lap average, while Elliott and Larson were eighth and ninth in that statistical category, respectively. On the 15-lap board, Byron was second, Elliott was fourth and Bowman was seventh.
Christopher Bell earned the pole position for the 500-lap event.
The Rick Hendrick-owned organization has 12 wins at "The Last Great Colosseum." Jeff Gordon (five wins) and Jimmie Johnson (two wins) are the only drivers in team history to win multiple times at the venue. Larson, Kyle Busch, Kasey Kahne, Terry Labonte and Darrell Waltrip each have one triumph for the team.
PHOTOS: See every Hendrick Motorsports win at Bristol
In last year's night race at Bristol, Hendrick Motorsports placed three cars in the top five. Elliott was the runner-up finisher, Byron took third and Larson rounded out the top five. This is one of two times that the team has placed three drivers in the top five at Bristol, with the other coming in September 2021. In total, there have been six instances of a team placing three cars in the top five at the Tennessee short track.
Tune in to watch the 500-lap night race at Bristol on Saturday, Sept. 16, at 6:30 p.m. ET on USA Network, NBC Sports App, PRN Radio and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio (Channel 90).