DARLINGTON, S.C. — Denny Hamlin took the ‘Ray Hendrick Special’ to his fifth Darlington Raceway pole in the NASCAR XFINITY Series on Saturday morning, topping Coors Light Pole Qualifying for the Sport Clips Haircuts-VFW 200.
Hamlin toured the 1.366-mile, egg-shaped oval in 28.556 seconds (172.209 mph) with his No. 18 Sport Clips Toyota, notching his 21st-career XFINITY pole and first since Sept. 5, 2015 at Darlington.
Ending his two-year pole drought in NASCAR’s second-tier division came as Hamlin looks to put a frustrating loss to Elliott Sadler in last year’s Darlington XFINITY race behind him.
“Man, (the weekend) has been pretty seamless so far, pretty straightforward,” Hamlin said after accepting the pole. “It’s about the race team, though. Eric Phillips obviously prepared a great car. Our Sport Clips Toyota has been fast all weekend so we’ll just see what happens in the race, because you never know.”
“We got beat last year, so you can’t ever take anything for granted. This track has been really good to me and I’m really happy with what we’ve got here. Hopefully we can keep it going on the Cup side as well.”
Hamlin’s last XFINITY pole at Darlington in 2015 resulted in his 14th-career series win and fourth at ‘The Track Too Tough To Tame’.
Fellow Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series regular Kevin Harvick will join Hamlin on the front row for the 200-miler, posting a lap of 28.685 seconds (171.435 mph) in the No. 41 Hunt Brothers Pizza Throwback Ford for Stewart-Haas Racing.
A pair of rookies follow the two Cup veterans, with Daniel Hemric (28.736/171.130) and Cole Custer (28.755/171.017) starting side-by-side on row two.
Ty Dillon completed the top five (28.791/170.803) in his No. 3 Bass Pro Shops/TRACKER Boats Chevrolet for Richard Childress Racing.
Three-time season winner William Byron was sixth-quick, with Elliott Sadler, Brennan Poole, Austin Dillon, Joey Logano, Erik Jones and Tyler Reddick completing the dozen drivers who advanced through all three knockout rounds.
Justin Allgaier was the first driver who failed to advance through into the final round, and the JR Motorsports driver will line up 13th (28.968/169.760) in the No. 7 Advance Auto Parts Chevrolet, which carries a tribute paint scheme honoring the three Earnhardt siblings this weekend.
Other notables who were knocked out in the second round include Matt Tifft (14th), Ross Chastain (16th), Ryan Reed (17th), Brendan Gaughan (19th) and Michael Annett (21st).
The round one cutoff line was hotly-contested, with JGL Racing’s Dakoda Armstrong tying with recent Road America winner Jeremy Clements for the 24th and final guaranteed spot in round two.
Both drivers posted a lap of 29.406 seconds (167.231 mph) on their first round runs, with Armstrong getting the nod based on car owner points (not playoff standings) entering the weekend.
Armstrong ultimately did not take a lap in the second round and will start 24th, while Clements rolls off 25th.
The NASCAR XFINITY Series Sport Clips Haircuts-VFW 200 kicks off at 3:30 p.m. ET, live on NBCSN, the Motor Racing Network and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio, channel 90.
Full qualifying results can be viewed on the next page…