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BRISTOL, Tenn. (AP) — Cole Custer won the first pole of his career Saturday through a formula designed for qualifying via heat races at dirt-covered Bristol Motor Speedway. © Provided by The Canadian Press
Custer put his No. 41 Ford at the front for NASCAR's rare Easter Sunday race that was specifically scheduled for Fox Sports to try to capitalize on a primetime holiday audience the way the NFL and NBA do on Thanksgiving and Christmas.
The starting lineup was set over four 15-lap heats that were determined by a random draw. Drivers accumulated points for both finishing and passing and Custer started ninth in his heat and then won it — good enough for his first pole in 84 career Cup starts.
Leclerc takes pole position for F1 Australian Grand Prix
MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — Ferrari driver Charles Leclerc claimed his second pole position of the year with a blistering final lap in qualifying for the Australian Grand Prix on Saturday. Leclerc, who won the season-opening race in Bahrain in March, posted a time of 1 minute, 17.868 seconds to edge Red Bull driver and defending series champion Max Verstappen by .286 seconds. Red Bull driver Sergio Perez qualified in third position, while LandoThe 22-year-old Norris completed a lap of the Albert Park circuit in 1 minute, 19.117, with Ferrari driver Charles Leclerc .132 seconds behind in second position in a session interrupted by two red flags.
“I was nervous about starting ninth, but it worked out,” Custer said. “They did a great job with the track. It was really racy.”
A slew of dirt aces followed Custer in qualifying: Christopher Bell was second in a Toyota, followed by Tyler Reddick in a Chevrolet and Chase Briscoe, Custer's teammate at Stewart-Haas Racing.
Reigning Cup Series champion Kyle Larson, one of the best drivers on dirt in the nation, qualified fifth and was followed by Justin Haley, Ty Dillon, Alex Bowman, Chase Elliott and defending race winner Joey Logano.
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“I wouldn’t call myself a dirt racing expert whatsoever,” Custer said. "I did it when I was younger. I raced some Ford Focus midgets when I was in my early teens and I always loved dirt, but I wouldn’t say that I’m an expert. I’m nowhere near Kyle Larson, so getting my first pole at a dirt race is pretty crazy.”
Leclerc takes pole position for F1 Australian Grand Prix, Canadians collide
MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — A Ferrari versus Red Bull battle is shaping up as the likely scenario on Sunday at the first Australian Grand Prix since the pandemic began in 2020. Charles Leclerc claimed Ferrari’s first pole position at the revamped Albert Park circuit since 2007 with a decisive final lap of 1 minute, 17.868 seconds in Melbourne on Saturday. But running close behind were the Red Bulls of world champion Max Verstappen, who qualified .286 seconds behind, and Sergio Perez, who posted the third quickest time. Leclerc and Verstappen have shared the opening two races of the season in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia and will now start alongside each other on the front row.
Visibility was much better Saturday as dust was less of an issue on the watered-down 2,300 truckloads of red Tennessee clay. Fox a year ago asked NASCAR to add a dirt race to the 38-race Cup schedule and Speedway Motorsports volunteered its .0533-mile Bristol bullring.
“I think the first truck heat race you saw some mud got flung up on their windshields and on their grilles and stuff, but after that nobody seemed to have a problem,” Custer said. "It’s the perfect amount (of moisture) what they’re chasing, it seems like. If it gets too dusty, then there’s too much dust in the air and if it’s too wet, then there’s too much mud flying up, so it’s just trying to find that sweet spot I think.”
It cost Speedway Motorsports CEO Marcus Smith over $2 million to convert the track a year ago and even though it was a dusty mess of a race, he announced before the checkered flag that the 2022 spring race would again be on dirt. The track was reverted back to its concrete “Last Great Colosseum.”
Fox asked for the Easter Sunday slot and Smith and his staff have scheduled a pre-race religious service for those at the track. He also said ticket sales have proven there's a demand for dirt racing and the 2023 race at Bristol will again be on dirt.
A spokesman for Speedway Motorsports told The Associated Press that ticket sales for the Bristol spring race — which had waned over the last decade because of poor weather and exorbitant local lodging rates — were above pre-pandemic levels. The crowd expected Sunday was on track to be the largest for Bristol's spring race in years.
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Jenna Fryer, The Associated Press
Rhodes slides past Hocevar on Bristol dirt to win truck race .
BRISTOL, Tenn. (AP) — Ben Rhodes used a crossover move to slide past Carson Hocevar and drift his way to victory in the NASCAR Truck Series race at dirt-covered Bristol Motor Speedway. The reigning Truck Series champion won Saturday night for the first time in six races this season and sixth time of his career. Prior to the win, Rhodes this season had four top-fives and a pair of runner-up finishes through five races. It was redemption of sortsThe reigning Truck Series champion won Saturday night for the first time in six races this season and sixth time of his career. Prior to the win, Rhodes this season had four top-fives and a pair of runner-up finishes through five races.