RICHMOND — Kyle Larson’s meteoric rise in the Sprint Cup Series continued Friday with an assist from Mother Nature. When qualifying for the Toyota Owners 400 was canceled because of rain, Larson earned the first pole of his Cup career because he had posted the fastest lap in the first practice on the three-quarters-of-a-mile oval at Richmond International Raceway: 126.880 mph.
He will start on the front row with Brad Keselowski, whose fastest lap in the first practice was 126.192 mph. Starting third-through-10th when the green flag drops at 7 p.m. Saturday will be Clint Bowyer, Kasey Kahne, Kevin Harvick, Brian Vickers, Jamie McMurray, Martin Truex Jr., Paul Menard and Jimmie Johnson.
“I don’t know if we would have gotten it had it not rained. I thought in Cup practice we were a top-five car. I’m definitely excited and I think getting the pole, even though it’s in practice, helps the confidence more. I’m looking forward to tomorrow.”
Brian Scott (Nationwide Series) and Nick Drake (K&N Pro Series East) won poles for the two races scheduled to be run at RIR on Friday. Both races were delayed by rain, with the Nationwide event starting at about 10:30 p.m. and the K&N event postponed until 9 a.m. Saturday.
Waltz second in Hamlin shootout
Local Late Model star Matt Waltz came close to becoming the second Langley Speedway driver to win the Denny Hamlin Short Track Showdown in the past four years.
Waltz led the first 195 of 200 laps at South Boston Speedway on Thursday before being passed by and finishing second to Matt Bowling. Langley Late Model standout Nick Smith was third.
Waltz and brother Kyle Waltz began working on the car Wednesday. They changed the steering box, transmission, master cylinder and front control arms on the 2010 Chevy, which they hadn’t raced in two years. It was in great shape by Thursday, as Waltz won the pole and held off NASCAR Cup star Kyle Busch on repeated restarts to hold the lead.
He said that the car tightened up some following a two-tire change on the mandatory pit stop at lap 150. In retrospect, he wishes he’d freed the car some, but said it had run so well to that point, he was hesitant to change it.
Among the NASCAR stars, Matt Kenseth was fifth, host Hamlin eighth, Busch ninth and David Ragan 20th.
“I didn’t really get nervous being around those guys,” Waltz said. “They’re race-car drivers like I am, just in a higher division.
“I’m proud that we won the pole, heat races, led all those laps and beat Kyle Busch on the restarts.”
Langley pastor to give invocation
The Rev. Tom Potter, who has served as the track chaplain at Langley Speedway for decades, will give the invocation before Saturday’s Cup race at RIR. Potter said it is the first time he’s been asked to give the pre-race prayer at Richmond.
Potter gives a coin to each driver who races at Langley Speedway with the inscription, “Lord, help me to remember that nothing is going to happen to me today that you and I can’t handle together.”
Turns out that Chase Elliott, who ran at Langley last year in a K&N Pro Series East race, carries the coin in his pocket for luck and showed it to an observer following his breakthrough Nationwide Series win earlier this month at Texas Motor Speedway.
“It’s going to be an honor and a privilege to give the invocation,” said Potter, the senior pastor at the Pinecrest Baptist Church in Portsmouth. “That’s really all I can say.”
Gray Gaulding made his first big splash racing a Legends car at Langley Speedway as a 12-year-old.
He bumped an older competitor aside in winning a race, then proclaimed to the crowd, “A man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do.”
Now 16 and approaching manhood, Gaulding also is on the cusp of stardom. He was selected Friday as one of 10 “NASCAR Next” drivers, a program developed three years ago to identify and market future stars in the sport.
Its alumni — which include Kyle Larson, Chase Elliott, Darrell Wallace Jr. and Daniel Suarez — have won 10 national series races, 75 touring series races and four touring series championships.
Joining Gaulding in this year’s class are Cole Custer, Ruben Garcia, Ryan Gifford, Austin Hill, Erik Jones, Jesse Little, Dylan Lupton, Brandon McReynolds, Ryan Preece, Ben Rhodes and Kenzie Ruston.
O'Brien can be reached by phone at 757-247-4963.