There is a certain degree of irony in the fact that a driver who has never before won a pole in the NASCAR Cup Series, just qualified first in a race that used to be exclusively for the previous year’s pole sitters.
Although, if you were paying attention to last year’s Busch Light Clash, Justin Haley leading the field in qualifying at the purpose-built quarter-mile track probably isn’t a big surprise.
The Winamac, Indiana-native put down the fastest lap, by far, in Saturday’s single-car qualifying session, posting a 13.413-second lap in order to win the pole by nearly 15 hundreds of a second.
Something to put into perspective just how fast @Justin_Haley_ was in qualifying tonight:
The gap between Haley and second-place @KyleBusch in qualifying (0.140s), was larger than the gap from Busch to 12th-place @RossChastain.@KauligRacing's No. 31 team brought the 🔥 to LA.
— Joseph Srigley (@joe_srigley) February 5, 2023
Despite posting the quickest time in qualifying, Haley isn’t guaranteed to start from the pole in the main event, or at all for that matter. Just like the other 35 drivers, the 23-year-old will have to secure a spot in the field through his heat race.
Kyle Busch, Christopher Bell, and William Byron posted the second through fourth-place times in qualifying, which ensures that they will each start from the pole position in their respective heat races.
Aric Almirola posted the fifth-quickest time in the session and will start alongside Haley in the first of four heat races. Austin Dillon, Denny Hamlin, and AJ Allmendinger will also start on the front row in their heat races.
On Sunday, the top five drivers from each heat race will lock themselves into the field for the 150-lap main event, before the remaining drivers are funneled into a pair of Last Chance Qualifiers to determine the field for the second-annual race at the LA Memorial Coliseum.