By Reid Spencer, NASCAR Wire Service
HOMESTEAD, Fla.—Denny Hamlin stole the thunder from the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series’ four Championship Round drivers, winning the pole for Sunday’s Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway (3 p.m. ET on NBC).
Outrunning Joey Logano and championship-eligible teammate Kyle Busch for the top starting spot, Hamlin toured the 1.5-mile speedway in 30.568 seconds (176.655 mph) in the third and final round of Friday’s knockout time trials.
Logano (176.263 mph) will start beside Hamlin in the season finale, followed by Busch, the highest qualifier among the drivers competing for the series title. Chasers Jeff Gordon (175.291 mph) and Martin Truex Jr. (174.498 mph) will start fifth and 11th, respectively, with defending champion Kevin Harvick taking the green from the 13th starting spot.
Given the focus on the four contenders, Hamlin introduced himself as “Mr. Irrelevant” when he took the podium for the pole winner’s press conference. But he did relish the prospect of winning what will be Jeff Gordon’s last race in the No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet.
“Sitting back here and watching Jeff talk and everything, it’s like, man, you know, I thought about it before, but I didn’t think about like how awesome it would be to win his final race,” said Hamlin, who won his third Coors Light Pole Award of the season, his first at Homestead and the 23rd
of his career.
“No disrespect to him, but, man, that would be awesome to win his final race. I hope he finishes third behind Kyle.”
Harvick posted the fastest lap of the day (177.848 mph) in the opening round, but his fortunes and those of Gordon moved in opposite directions for the remainder of the session. Without benefit of a mock qualifying run in opening practice, Gordon slipped outside the top 24 on his first qualifying attempt but recovered to advance to the second round with a 17th-place effort on his second run.
Gordon was sixth fastest in the second round to advance to the final session.
“That was disappointing, and I think that really affected me, that first run,” Gordon said. “I just didn’t push the car hard enough, didn’t realize how much more grip was going to be out there compared to practice, and I just wasn’t aggressive enough. The car was fine. The car was good. I just
needed to go faster mainly through (Turns) 1 and 2.
“I really did not think we could go faster than that. I didn’t think the tires would have it in them. The fact that we were able to advance to the second round was huge. Kind of got me motivated and pumped up after that, and we made some adjustments, some big adjustments on the car, which we felt like we needed to do as you advance through the round and get the tires hot and air pressures start changing you know you’ve got to adjust the balance.
“The team did an excellent, excellent job of that in those last couple laps. That last one could have been a tiny bit better, but knowing that we had one extra lap on the tires, I’m very, very proud and happy with that run.”
Harvick, on the other hand, failed to crack the top 12 in the second round by .002 seconds and will start deepest in the field of all the Chase drivers.
“Yeah, round one was really good for us, and then we went to round two and just really, really tight in the next two runs that we made,” Harvick said. “We just never really recovered from what we did in the first round to make it repeat.
“All in all, I just think our balance was too tight. We’ll work on the race car and go from there.”
Note: Jeb Burton and Reed Sorenson failed to make the 43-car field.
NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Qualifying – Ford EcoBoost 400
1. (11) Denny Hamlin, Toyota, 176.655 mph.
2. (22) Joey Logano, Ford, 176.263 mph.
3. (18) Kyle Busch, Toyota, 176.062 mph.
4. (31) Ryan Newman, Chevrolet, 175.347 mph.
5. (24) Jeff Gordon, Chevrolet, 175.291 mph.
6. (21) Ryan Blaney(i), Ford, 175.143 mph.
7. (19) Carl Edwards, Toyota, 175.063 mph.
8. (2) Brad Keselowski, Ford, 175.046 mph.
9. (88) Dale Earnhardt Jr., Chevrolet, 174.678 mph.
10. (3) Austin Dillon, Chevrolet, 174.633 mph.
11. (78) Martin Truex Jr., Chevrolet, 174.498 mph.
12. (48) Jimmie Johnson, Chevrolet, 174.098 mph.
13. (4) Kevin Harvick, Chevrolet, 175.444 mph.
14. (43) Aric Almirola, Ford, 175.404 mph.
15. (41) Kurt Busch, Chevrolet, 175.365 mph.
16. (17) Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Chevrolet, 175.279 mph.
17. (27) Paul Menard, Chevrolet, 175.239 mph.
18. (5) Kasey Kahne, Chevrolet, 175.239 mph.
19. (20) Matt Kenseth, Toyota, 175.211 mph.
20. (47) AJ Allmendinger, Chevrolet, 174.859 mph.
21. (16) Greg Biffle, Ford, 174.419 mph.
22. (1) Jamie McMurray, Chevrolet, 174.340 mph.
23. (42) Kyle Larson, Chevrolet, 174.059 mph.
24. (15) Clint Bowyer, Toyota, 172.651 mph.
25. (33) Ty Dillon(i), Chevrolet, 174.848 mph.
26. (6) Trevor Bayne, Ford, 174.115 mph.
27. (13) Casey Mears, Chevrolet, 173.829 mph.
28. (9) Sam Hornish Jr., Ford, 173.723 mph.
29. (95) Michael McDowell, Ford, 173.650 mph.
30. (51) Justin Allgaier, Chevrolet, 173.399 mph.
31. (26) JJ Yeley(i), Toyota, 173.199 mph.
32. (32) Josh Wise, Ford, 172.833 mph.
33. (7) Alex Bowman, Chevrolet, 172.750 mph.
34. (40) Landon Cassill(i), Chevrolet, 172.618 mph.
35. (10) Danica Patrick, Chevrolet, 172.463 mph.
36. (14) Tony Stewart, Chevrolet, 172.276 mph.
37. (83) Matt DiBenedetto #, Toyota, Owner Points
38. (55) David Ragan, Toyota, Owner Points
39. (46) Michael Annett, Chevrolet, Owner Points
40. (35) Cole Whitt, Ford, Owner Points
41. (38) David Gilliland, Ford, Owner Points
42. (34) Brett Moffitt #, Ford, Owner Points
43. (98) Ryan Preece, Chevrolet, Owner Points
Image: Robert Laberge/NASCAR via Getty Images