It paid off Sunday.
The 23-year-old North Carolinian captured the pole for the Brickyard 200, posting a fast lap of 100.044 mph on the 14-turn, 2.439-mile road course at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. It’s the first time Cup Series drivers will use the twisting road course instead of the traditional 2.5-mile oval.
Chase Briscoe, who won last year’s Xfinity Series road race at Indy, will start second on Sunday after going 99.561 mph. Betting favorites Chase Elliott, the reigning Cup champ, and Kyle Larson, who shares the points lead, will start third and fourth.
“Hopefully we have the speed in the race to back it up,” Byron said after qualifying. “Looking forward to the race and hopefully we can keep it up.”
Byron began the day third in points and has already qualified for the playoffs with one trip to victory lane.
His second pole of the season came on a road course, just like his first, and he appears to be building momentum after getting some tips from IndyCar driver Rinus VeeKay on the the simulator.
“He had an interesting technique on the brakes and I was quizzing him on it,” Byron said. “They can use more brake and turn faster than we do.”
Briscoe isn’t the only driver in the field who has won on the road course. Austin Cindric qualified 13th after winning Saturday’s 150-mile Xfinity Series race.
Byron also expects to face challenges from two of his Hendrick Motorsports teammates—Elliott, who has eight top-two finishes in his last nine road races, and Larson, who has won four of the last nine Cup races including last week at Watkins Glen. Larson has finished first or second in eight of the last 12 points events in addition to winning the All-Star race.
Sunday’s race will cap a crossover weekend that featured three different circuits each running one race on the same course.
Team Penske won twice Saturday, first with Will Power capturing a historic fifth IndyCar win on the road course. Later, Cindric, the son of team president Tim Cindric, sang “Back Home Again In Indiana” before the traditional kissing of the bricks.
Sunday is supposed to be Cindric’s final Cup start of 2021. He’s already been given a full-time ride with Team Penske in 2022.
Defending race winner Kevin Harvick, Briscoe’s teammate with Stewart-Haas Racing, qualified 25th.
Organizers made one modification to the track overnight—removing a “turtle” in the sixth turn, which caused some trouble for drivers Saturday.
A Briscoe victory would give Indiana natives back-to-back wins on their home track.
“Front row here at Indy, obviously wanted the pole,” Briscoe said. “That was probably the most nervous I’ve been for a qualifying session, probably in my whole career.”
By Michael Marot