Photo: James Gilbert/Getty Images via NASCAR

Denny Hamlin Captures Cup Series Pole at Talladega

By David Morgan, Associate Editor

TALLADEGA, Ala. – Denny Hamlin will have the best seat in the house when the green flag waves on Sunday’s Geico 500 at Talladega after scoring the pole.

The two-time winner at the 2.66-mile superspeedway propelled his No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota to the top of the scoring pylon with a lap of 52.979 seconds, 180.751 mph to capture the first superspeedway pole of his NASCAR Cup Series career.

“This was the first one for sure. I was well aware this was my first speedway pole,” Hamlin said. “I think that last year was a great opportunity because I think all the Toyotas qualified really well on the speedways. Kind of nature of the bodies that we submitted to NASCAR so we knew we were going to be fast on these types of race tracks.

“The body that we submitted this year, I think we got more of a balance and we knew it was going to slow us up on these types of race tracks. But Toyota and those guys continue to make advancements and we get a little faster.”

How much of an advantage will starting from the pole be on Sunday? Hamlin is mixed on whether there is any advantage of starting up front versus deeper in the pack.

“I don’t know that there is one, honestly. I mean, if I would’ve qualified 18th, I would’ve been just as optimistic, I guess. Although I would say that qualifying on the pole means my car is very capable and will be fast leading. I haven’t been fast in Next Gen era while leading superspeedways. So, I think certainly that gives me the confidence that we should be able to lead the pack quickly, which will make it harder for them to pass us.”

Hamlin will be joined by another former Talladega winner in Stewart Haas Racing’s Aric Almirola on the front row.

“When you run at these speedways, you have no idea how the car is speed-wise. The lap is going to be what it is,” Almirola said. “You just need to do all the little things right as a driver, but a lot of it is about the preparation at the shop – the guys on the team and car. I felt like I did my part. I felt like I got a good launch off pit road and did all the things I needed to do.

“Gosh, we were really close. But, I’m proud of everybody on the race team – Drew [Blickensderfer] and everyone on our Smithfield Ford Mustang. The team has done a great job, and I’m looking forward to the race.”

Joe Gibbs Racing as a whole was strong in qualifying, with Ty Gibbs posting the third fastest time, along with Christopher Bell in sixth, and Martin Truex. Jr. in seventh.

A pair of Fords will roll off fourth and fifth, with Chase Briscoe and Ryan Blaney starting in those positions. Briscoe was the fastest in the first round of qualifying.

“The first round, I was kind of surprised that it was that good, because I was bouncing around and didn’t feel I held the greatest, straightest wheel. But yeah, it was really good,” Briscoe said.

“It’s kind of something that’s common for us – being really, really fast in the first round, but for whatever reason, we just don’t pick up as much in the second round. The second round we felt like we were going to be in really good shape when we went green, and on the back straightaway, I had a pretty big head-wind. I could tell by the flags that I was probably going to be in trouble.

“But, starting fourth is a great position. Obviously, we’d love to have the pole but truthfully, we’d probably rather start in the second row. I feel like you can kind of determine your own destiny a little bit more. When you’re in the lead, the guys behind you are shoving you. If your car can’t handle it’s really hard to do anything. Being second row helps that.

“We have a lot of fast Fords around us, so just looking forward to tomorrow. Hopefully our car can stay up-front.”

The remainder of the top-10 went to Joey Logano in eighth, Kyle Larson in ninth, and Chris Buescher in 10th.

Ross Chastain and Chase Elliott, who won the Talladega races last season, will have some work to do on Sunday, starting 23rd and 29th, respectively.

Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. has an even bigger hill to climb in his effort of adding another superspeedway win to his resume this season following the Daytona 500 as he starts from 33rd place.

The 188-lap GEICO 500 is scheduled for 3:00 pm ET on FOX.

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David Morgan is the Associate Editor for Motorsports Tribune. A 2008 graduate from the University of Mississippi, David has followed NASCAR since the early 90’s and became hooked at an early age after attending his first race at Talladega Superspeedway in 1993. He has traveled across the country since 2012 to cover some of the most prestigious events both IndyCar and NASCAR have to offer, with an aim to only expand on that in the near future.