Denny Hamlin Gives Toyota Front-Row Qualifying Sweep

Denny Hamlin

Denny Hamlin secured his first pole position in over a year in Friday night's qualifying session for Sunday's Bank of America 500 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Hamlin clocked in with the fastest speed in the third and final round, turning in a lap of 191.598 mph in the no. 11 Toyota Camry to bump Kevin Harvick from the top spot. Hamlin's Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Matt Kenseth also got the better of Harvick to take the outside pole to give Toyota and JGR a sweep of the front row.

Harvick managed to hold onto third, followed by Kyle Busch and Clint Bowyer.

Hamlin's pole-winning effort was his first of the season and his first pole since September of 2016 at Richmond. It was his second-career Charlotte pole and the 25th of his Cup Series career.

"It's good, you always like keeping streaks alive," said Hamlin. "Hadn’t had a pole this year and have had one every other year, but it’s good. We’ve been so close and we’ve made so many final rounds, been in the top-five, but not as fast as our teammates. Today we adjusted on it, got it a little better each round and had some good will.

"This is a track position type race track. All of them are, but any mile-and-a-half you go to you want to have the number one pit stall, you want to be out in clean air."

Hamlin came back in the third and final round to spoil the party for Harvick, who had the field covered through the opening two rounds along Bowyer.

Harvick topped the opening round with a lap of 192.589 mph to lead Bowyer, Ryan Newman, Daniel Suarez and Ryan Blaney and followed it up by running 191.945 mph to top the second round. Bowyer again took second, followed by Hamlin, Kenseth and Kurt Busch.

In the final round, Harvick was out first and once again motored to the top of the speed chart before Hamlin took to the track and bumped off the defending polesitter.

"I didn't feel like I got to the green quite as good (in the final round) and I felt like I had a little bit to spare in one and I didn't," said Harvick. "I got the ground just a little bit and got up a foot and just had to wait a split-second, but we have a really good car. We had three good rounds, a good starting spot and we'll go from there."

[adinserter name="GOOGLE AD"] Kyle Busch was among several drivers who had issues getting their cars through technical inspection, with Busch and Dale Earnhardt, Jr. barely beating the clock to get onto the track by the end of Round 1, while the cars of rookie Erik Jones, Corey LaJoie and Brett Moffitt were unable to make it through inspection in time to make a qualifying attempt.

Busch and Earnhardt's issues in inspection were largely to due problems they encountered earlier in the day in practice, with both smacking the outside wall coming off turn four due to the inconsistent application of the PJ1 TrackBite traction compound that had been applied to the track, particularly in turn four, where, in the heat of the day, the traction compound had seemed to make the track slicker.

Earnhardt, Jr. said the traction compound actually had the opposite effect, which ultimately played a role in his incident during the afternoon practice session.

"I think you guys saw it during practice, the stuff that they sprayed down it has had a bad reaction to the sun or something that has made it really slick," said Earnhardt. "We saw at Bristol, it takes some heat and some activity to work it in and get it to activate and create grip, but we never seen it like this. When they put it on, the time of day, the sun beating on it all day, I don't know, but something has made it to where it doesn't have grip, it's the opposite."

Earnhardt, Jr., making his final Charlotte start, was forced to go to a backup car, while Kyle Busch's crew elected to fix the primary car.

"I lost all my confidence after that last run we had there in practice," said Kyle Busch. "(Our) Camry was really good today, just unfortunate that I got up in the stuff, the grippy stuff and it was slick. It just kind of washed us right out to the fence. We got it pretty good, so hands off – hats off to all my guys and all the hands that were on our race car today. They just worked really really hard to get it prepared and luckily enough we got it through tech and was able to get it on the track to make some qualifying runs and qualified fourth."

Track officials later acknowledged that the PJ1 TrackBite traction compound had not been applied as evenly in turn four as it was in turn two due to a problem with the sprayer that was used, and the track will re-apply the compound before Sunday's race.

QUOTES

DENNY HAMLIN, No. 11 FedEx Office Toyota Camry, Joe Gibbs Racing

Starting Position: 1st

How big is it to get the pole at a race like this?

“It’s good, you always like to keep streaks alive. Hadn’t had a pole this year and have had one every other year, but it’s good. We’ve been so close and we’ve made so many final rounds, been in the top-five, but not as fast as our teammates. Today we adjusted on it, got it a little better each round and had some good will.

How important is it for you to start up front given how important track position is at Charlotte?

“It’s really big. This is a track position type race track. All of them are, but any mile and half you go to you want to have the number one pit stall, you want to be out in clean air. Good thing with our FedEx Toyota we had a good, fast car and put it on the top."

What’s more important at Charlotte, the track position starting on the pole or the pit selection?

“I think it’s 50/50. Track position is only good if your car is fast enough to hold the position. But that pit stall can pay off all day long and we know my pit crew can do amazing things with a good pit stall, so we’ll see how it all pans out."

Talk about your qualifying run and expectations for the race.

“The day really started off really well. The first time we hit the track we were P1 and just kind of ran the same lap time throughout the whole first practice and then we ran about the same lap time again in qualifying and it was enough. The good part about it with our cars it seemed like we got just a tiny bit faster each and every round when a lot of guys started backing up and that was the key for us to get the pole."

Did you know it was your 25th career pole? Do poles mean anything to you other than you get a better starting spot?

“I had one pole and at least one win in every year of my career, so I knew that the time was running out to get a pole because I hadn’t had one yet in 2017. I didn’t keep track of the numbers, like how many, I just care about keeping the streak of winning at least one in every season alive."

Was practice earlier today meaningful if they’re going to have to reapply the PJ1?

“That’s the first I’ve heard of the sprayer malfunction. My guess is that it was just the mixture was wrong. I don’t know. It looks the same in (Turn) 1 and 2 to 3 and 4, but obviously some guys got up in it and it was treacherous. The only difference is that last time they drug tires on the PJ1 here last time and I thought that that kind of burnt in the stickiness. That PJ1 is not sticky until it gets hot and even here in the spring it took many many laps of cars running on it for it to get primed and get where it was good. I don’t think we should draw too many conclusions off of practice. The first few cars, yes when they hit it it’s going to be slick, but I think once we get the XFINITY race in and we start to see guys running in the middle and top, it’s going to burn it in enough to where it’s going to be very effective I think on Sunday. They know better than I do how they apply it and the proper way to apply it, but my guess is it must have been some kind of mixture problem between the two turns."

Does starting up front mean anything strategically in acquiring stage points?

“I think if there’s anyone that can afford to start deep, it’s probably (Martin) Truex. He had so many points. For us it’s a big bonus because we’re in that kind of a middle spot in the grid right now where we have some decent playoff points, but we’re still 40 or so behind Truex and maybe 30 or so behind Kyle (Busch) and we can knock a big chunk out of that if we run up front in the first two stages. So we’ve got the starting spot to do it, so we need to log all the points we can while we have the track position and I’m glad we’re starting off this round this way and hopefully our car is good enough to stay there to get those points early on."

MATT KENSETH, No. 20 Tide Pods Toyota Camry, Joe Gibbs Racing

Matt Kenseth
Matt Kenseth

Starting Position: 2nd

How much has this race track changed with the PJ1?

“Qualifying I didn’t have as big of a problem today. I was one of the most conservative guys probably just entering real straight, entering underneath it. It’s just strange the way they applied it. They applied it so far out on the straightaway, off of (Turn) 2 and into 3 that it’s impossible not to really drive across it. It was a challenging day, but it ended decent for us."

Do you think the track will change throughout this weekend with driver feedback?

“I have no idea. I don’t have any idea what they’ll do. I think there’s a lot of variables most likely coming this weekend, most of it being weather – weather and cars on the track. We’ll just have to see what happens. It’s the same for everybody."

Talk about your qualifying run and expectations for the race.

“Our qualifying run was good. Obviously saved our best lap for last. Practice was very challenging today. I was probably the last one to kind of be aggressive enough and run through that stuff on the track. I was pretty conservative most of the time. Got a good lap second round, made some good adjustments. Got a good lap in the third round. I just was a little too aggressive trying to get to the green and probably cost us the pole. Overall it was a good day for us."

Do you have confidence going into Sunday starting on the front row?

“I mean I know that we’ve said this over and over again, but track position is obviously important – track position, restarts, pit stops, strategy, all that stuff. Not probably the easiest track we go to typically to pass, now being a day race and that stuff maybe to widen out some and be able to pass a little bit easier than normal hopefully. It’s always important to be up front and try to get a good pit stall for Sunday. It’s how you want to start your weekend."

KYLE BUSCH, No. 18 Interstate Batteries Toyota Camry, Joe Gibbs Racing

Starting Position: 4th

What were you missing there in qualifying to contend for the pole?

“Confidence. I lost all my confidence after that last run we had there in practice. The Interstate Batteries Camry was really good today, just unfortunate that I got up in the stuff, the grippy stuff and it was slick. It just kind of washed us right out to the fence. We got it pretty good, so hands off – hats off to all my guys and all the hands that were on our race car today. They just worked really really hard to get it prepared and luckily enough we got it through tech and was able to get it on the track to make some qualifying runs and qualified fourth. Way better than being 40th or whatever so we get a good start for Sunday and we’ll go get them from there."

QUALIFYING RESULTS

Pos. # Driver Make Sponsor Lap Behind Speed
1 11 Denny Hamlin Toyota FedEx Office 28.184 LEADER 191.598
2 20 Matt Kenseth Toyota Tide PODS 28.200 -0.016 191.489
3 4 Kevin Harvick Ford Jimmy John's 28.214 -0.030 191.394
4 18 Kyle Busch Toyota Interstate Batteries 28.281 -0.097 190.941
5 14 Clint Bowyer Ford Haas Automation 28.334 -0.150 190.584
6 2 Brad Keselowski Ford Alliance Truck Parts 28.338 -0.154 190.557
7 24 Chase Elliott Chevy SunEnergy1 28.360 -0.176 190.409
8 41 Kurt Busch Ford TBD 28.367 -0.183 190.362
9 5 Kasey Kahne Chevy Road to Race Day 28.388 -0.204 190.221
10 42 Kyle Larson Chevy Target 28.411 -0.227 190.067
11 31 Ryan Newman Chevy Caterpillar 28.449 -0.265 189.813
12 10 Danica Patrick Ford Warriors in Pink 28.539 -0.355 189.215
13 3 Austin Dillon Chevy TBD 28.421 -0.237 190.000
14 19 Daniel Suarez Toyota Stanley 28.449 -0.265 189.813
15 21 Ryan Blaney Ford Motorcraft 28.465 -0.281 189.707
16 95 Michael McDowell Chevy Procore 28.484 -0.300 189.580
17 78 Martin Truex Jr. Toyota Auto-Owners Insurance 28.496 -0.312 189.500
18 1 Jamie McMurray Chevy Sherwin-Williams 28.540 -0.356 189.208
19 47 AJ Allmendinger Chevy Kroger Click List 28.541 -0.357 189.201
20 27 Paul Menard Chevy Menards / Schrock 28.546 -0.362 189.168
21 37 Chris Buescher Chevy Gain 28.586 -0.402 188.904
22 17 Ricky Stenhouse Jr. Ford SunnyD 28.812 -0.628 187.422
23 88 Dale Earnhardt Jr. Chevy Nationwide 28.833 -0.649 187.285
24 43 Aric Almirola Ford Smithfield 29.088 -0.904 185.644
25 48 Jimmie Johnson Chevy Lowe's 28.538 -0.354 189.221
26 6 Trevor Bayne Ford AdvoCare 28.572 -0.388 188.996
27 13 Ty Dillon Chevy GEICO 28.661 -0.477 188.409
28 22 Joey Logano Ford TBD 28.765 -0.581 187.728
29 32 Matt DiBenedetto Ford EJ Wade Foundation 28.843 -0.659 187.220
30 34 Landon Cassill Ford TBD 28.871 -0.687 187.039
31 38 David Ragan Ford TheHouse.Com 28.900 -0.716 186.851
32 72 Cole Whitt Chevy TriStar Motorsports 28.986 -0.802 186.297
33 51 BJ McLeod Chevy Donnie Neueneberger Foundation 29.286 -1.102 184.388
34 15 Reed Sorenson Toyota Exchange of America 29.327 -1.143 184.131
35 55 Gray Gaulding Toyota LowT Center 29.501 -1.317 183.045
36 66 Timmy Hill Chevy O.C.R. Gaz Bar 29.602 -1.418 182.420
37 33 Jeffrey Earnhardt Chevy Hulu 29.807 -1.623 181.165
38 77 Erik Jones Toyota 5-hour ENERGY 0.000 28.184 0.000
39 23 Corey Lajoie Toyota MyFreedomSmokes.com 0.000 28.184 0.000
40 83 Brett Moffitt Toyota Champion Machinery 0.000 28.184 0.000


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