CONCORD, N.C. — Denny Hamlin may not have been the top gun in the first two rounds of qualifying Friday night at Charlotte Motor Speedway, but he was certainly fastest when it counted.
Hamlin finally scored his first Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series pole of the season by taking his No. 11 FedEx Toyota to a lap of 28.184 seconds (191.598 mph) around the 1.5-mile quad-oval, earning the No. 1 starting spot for the Bank of America 500.
The Chesterfield, Va. native has won a pole in 12 of the 13 years he has competed at the Cup level, including each of the last six seasons.
“You always like keeping streaks alive,” said Hamlin. “We haven’t had a pole this year and had one every other year (except 2011), but it’s good. We’ve been so close and made so many final rounds and been in the top-five, but just haven’t been quite as fast as our other teammates. Today, we adjusted on it, got a little bit better each round and had some good results.”
Hamlin added that despite Sunday’s race being scheduled in the daytime, he feels track position will still be crucial to success.
“This is a track position-type racetrack. Any 1.5-mile you go to, you want to have the No. 1 pit stall and be out in clean air,” explained Hamlin. “The good thing with our FedEx Toyota was that we had a good, fast car and put it on the stopwatch right where we needed to tonight.”
Hamlin’s Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Matt Kenseth will join him on the front row for Sunday’s race, putting up the second-fastest time of 28.200 seconds (191.489 mph) in the No. 20 Tide Pods Toyota.
Kevin Harvick, who led the first two knockout rounds and appeared to be the heavy favorite for the pole, faded to third (28.214/191.394) on his money lap, just three hundredths of a second off of Hamlin’s pole-winning time.
“I didn’t get to the green quite like I wanted to. I got a little bit tight coming to the green and I thought I had a little bit (of time) to spare in Turn 1,” lamented Harvick. “I tried to just squeeze a little bit more on the entry and then I hit the ground, got myself up a foot and lost my strong point there coming off of Turn 2. I scrubbed some speed by getting up the track and hitting the ground and that probably showed there in the lap time.”
“I felt like I was about the same all three times in (Turns) 3 and 4, but the team did a good job with our Jimmy John’s Ford and hopefully we can race well from third on Sunday.”
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