Championship contender Bubba Wallace opened the NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs Round of 12 in promising fashion by earning the pole position in Saturday’s qualifying for the Autotrader EchoPark Automotive 400 at Texas Motor Speedway.

Wallace, driver of the No. 23 McDonald’s Toyota for 23XI Racing, posted a lap speed of 188.337 miles per hour (28.672 seconds) in the final round of qualifying to earn his first pole position of the season and second of his career. His other pole came last August at Michigan International Speedway.

Wallace, the final seed in the field of 12 playoff drivers, will lead the 36-car field to the green flag for Sunday’s Autotrader EchoPark Automotive 400 beginning at 2:30 p.m. (TV: USA, Radio: PRN, SiriusXM).

“We have the best track position right now, but we know with strategy, everything is going to change and evolve (tomorrow),” Wallace said. “We are going to get behind at some point, so it is just a matter of making the most of every situation that we are in. Right now, we start on the pole, if we lead all the laps – some people may pit and cut it. You are going to get behind at some point, so we’ve got to figure out how to get back up there, but you can’t get complacent on the small victories. It takes a lot of them to get to a big victory, but it’s a good start.”

Wallace easily topped his previously best starting position at Texas Motor Speedway of 10th, which came in the spring race of 2019, in eight career starts.

“Was I expecting it? I don’t know,” he said. “In qualifying, I tend to try too hard and overthink things. I need to stop that and just go out and do. So that was a good surprise.”

Wallace, the last driver to qualify in the 10-driver final round of qualifying, edged out Prosper, Texas native Chris Buescher of RFK Racing. Buescher, driver of the No. 17 Fastenal Ford, ran a lap of 188.081 mph (28.711), which was .039 of a second shy of Wallace’s pole-winning time. The qualifying run was his best of the season, topping his fourth at Michigan.

“That was definitely encouraging. It stinks to get bumped by the last car at the end like that,” said Buescher. “That is a bummer. But it is the first part of the weekend. Our Fastenal Mustang had a ton of speed there in qualifying and it is our best qualifying effort of the year so I am really proud of that. I am proud to have both the RFK Fords up here. It is a good start for us at a track that we have been looking forward to for a long time. It is hot and slick and we were still able to put good speed down, so I am happy with that. It is a good start for us.”

In addition to the front row, playoff contenders took four of the top five positions overall as Brad Keselowski of RFK Racing will start third and Ross Chastain of Trackhouse Racing fifth. Ty Gibbs of Joe Gibbs Racing prevented the playoff driver sweep by qualifying fourth.

Three other playoff drivers will start among the top 10 as Kyle Busch of Richard Childress Racing qualified seventh, Christopher Bell of Joe Gibbs Racing was 9th and JGR teammate Denny Hamlin was 10th. Hamlin advanced to the final round of qualifying but was forced to abort his qualifying lap.

That left five playoff drivers outside of the top 10, including three failing to crack the top 15. Kyle Larson of Hendrick Motorsports qualified 11th, Tyler Reddick of 23XI Racing was 15th, second-seeded Martin Truex Jr. of Joe Gibbs Racing was 16th, top-seeded William Byron of Henrick Motorsports was 18th and Ryan Blaney of Team Penske was 23rd.

Retiring Kevin Harvick of Stewart-Haas Racing will start 22nd in his track-record 39th and final Cup appearance at Texas Motor Speedway.

UP NEXT: Texas Motor Speedway’s opens the NASCAR Xfinity Series Playoffs with today’s Andy’s Frozen Custard 300 (TV: USA, Radio: PRN, SiriusXM), which is currently underway. Playoff contender Justin Allgaier of JR Motorsports started from the pole to lead the field to the green.

Texas Motor Speedway’s always-busy events schedule is well under way. Upcoming events in 2023 include: Autotrader EchoPark Automotive 400 NASCAR Playoffs weekend (Sept. 23-24), Goodguys’ Summit Racing Lone Start Nationals (Sept. 29-Oct. 1), Speedway Children’s Charities Smoke Show (Oct. 11) and Gordy’s Hwy 30 Music Fest (Oct. 19-22). The year wraps up with the family-favorite and speedway tradition Gift of Lights holiday light show