There were eight Ford Performance drivers that made it to the final round of qualifying on July 8. Ryan Blaney showed speed early as he tried to win the pole for the first time in 2023, but he posted the second-fastest lap during the second. It was Aric Almirola who won the pole with a time of 31.261 seconds.
Chase Briscoe, Joey Logano, Harrison Burton, and Kevin Harvick made up rows two and three and then the lone representatives for Toyota Racing and Team Chevy — Ty Gibbs and Kyle Larson — made up row four. Two more Ford Performance drivers in Todd Gilliland and Austin Cindric rounded out the top 10.
Briscoe delivered his best starting position of the 2023 season. His previous bests were fourth at Talladega Superspeedway and fourth at Martinsville Speedway during the spring. Both times, he went on to finish inside of the top five.
The starting position was also significant for Almirola, who has dealt with struggles during the 2023 season. He will start from the pole for the first time this year and for the fifth time in his Cup Series career.
Almirola’s last pole win took place at Bristol Motor Speedway during the 2022 season. He led 36 laps but finished 28th overall after a steering issue sent the No. 10 Stewart-Haas Racing to the garage.
Team Penske Continued Its Atlanta Momentum
While Almirola captured his first pole win of the 2023 season, the three Team Penske drivers continued their qualifying momentum from the spring. All three qualified inside of the top 10 once again.
The March race at Atlanta Motor Speedway saw Logano starting from the pole with Cindric next to him on the front row. Blaney lined up on the second row next to RFK Racing’s Brad Keselowski, who had the 11th-fastest lap on July 8. Logano went on to win after a last-lap pass.
With all three Team Penske cars in the top 10 once again, there will be opportunities for the drivers to use teamwork to their advantage. They could work together early in the mini-superspeedway race and try to take the lead away from Almirola.
“We’re gonna lead the field to green, and I think Joey did the same thing in the spring and dominated the race,” Almirola said after winning the pole, per PRN. “Hopefully, we can do the same thing tomorrow night.”
Almirola is Ready for a Change
Winning the pole does not guarantee a race win for Almirola and Stewart-Haas Racing. Logano and Team Penske obviously took advantage of the starting position in the spring by leading 140 of the 260 laps and winning ahead of Keselowski, but this is not something that is easy to replicate.
While Almirola still has plenty of work ahead of him, he expressed optimism about the Cup Series race at Atlanta Motor Speedway. He especially pointed out how SHR has been bringing him fast cars throughout the season, and he said that it was nice to something go his way.
The 2023 season has been full of struggles for Almirola and SHR as a whole. The veteran only has one top-10 finish in the first 18 races of the season, and he has an average finish of 22.4. As Almirola explained prior to the race weekend, things just have not gone his way and he is ready for that to change.
“I have always enjoyed going to Atlanta,” Almirola said. “It has been a place that we are so fast as a race team. It’s been a place where we have led a lot of laps recently and I look forward to going there knowing we can put ourselves in a position to win.
“Unfortunately, both times we have led laps we have been wrecked out or cut a tire from the lead toward the end of the race. Things have to go our way, eventually, and I know we can put ourselves back in that position again this weekend.”