BRISTOL, Tenn. – If it’s pole day in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, Joe Gibbs Racing must be celebrating.
Denny Hamlin powered his No. 11 Toyota around .533-mile Bristol Motor Speedway in 14.602 seconds (131.407 mph) on Friday to win the pole for Saturday’s Irwin Tools Night Race (on NBCSN at 7:30 p.m. ET).
In breaking Kevin Harvick’s August 2014 track qualifying record by .005 seconds, Hamlin won his second Coors Light Pole Award of the season, his third at Bristol and the 22nd of his career.
JGR swept the top three spots in qualifying for the second straight week, having accomplished the feat last Saturday on the two-mile track at Michigan International Speedway. The pole was JGR’s fifth straight on an oval track (AJ Allmendinger, in a JTG Daugherty Chevrolet, claimed the top starting spot for the Aug. 9 race on the road course at Watkins Glen).
Hamlin edged teammate Kyle Busch (131.263 mph) by .016 seconds. Carl Edwards (130.655 mph) took the third starting spot, followed by David Ragan in a Michael Waltrip Racing Toyota (130.460 mph) and Joey Logano in a Team Penske Ford (130.344 mph).
Hamlin also won the pole for Friday night’s NASCAR XFINITY Series race.
“To have that two nights in a row here is hopefully going to pay dividends,” Hamlin said. “We’re excited. Bristol’s been a great track for me in the past, and we’ve got nothing to lose this weekend, just gearing up for the Chase, so I think our FedEx team’s ready.”
Hamlin has a victory at Bristol in addition to his two poles, and with a Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup position guaranteed by virtue of his victory at Martinsville in April, he can go all-out for a win on Saturday night without fear of consequences.
Busch fought handling issues in the final two rounds of knockout qualifying and went for broke on his final attempt in the last round.
“We were just a little too free there the second segment and the first run of the third segment,” Busch said. “It’s a little edgy up there, so you try not to push too hard, but still make a good lap and come back safely.
“Then there at the end we tried a ‘Hail Mary’ and it worked. It picked us up speed, but it didn’t pick us up that spot.”
Brad Keselowski, Kevin Harvick, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. Clint Bowyer and Jimmie Johnson grabbed the sixth through 10th spots on the grid, respectively. The qualifying effort was Stenhouse’s best of the year.
Jeff Gordon will start 24th in his last race at Bristol as a full-time Sprint Cup driver. Travis Kvapil, Jeb Burton and Reed Sorenson failed to make the 43-car field.
NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Qualifying – IRWIN Tools Night Race
- (11) Denny Hamlin, Toyota, 131.407 mph.
- (18) Kyle Busch, Toyota, 131.263 mph.
- (19) Carl Edwards, Toyota, 130.655 mph.
- (55) David Ragan, Toyota, 130.460 mph.
- (22) Joey Logano, Ford, 130.344 mph.
- (2) Brad Keselowski, Ford, 130.327 mph.
- (4) Kevin Harvick, Chevrolet, 130.300 mph.
- (17) Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Ford, 130.123 mph.
- (15) Clint Bowyer, Toyota, 130.053 mph.
- (48) Jimmie Johnson, Chevrolet, 129.947 mph.
- (41) Kurt Busch, Chevrolet, 129.447 mph.
- (42) Kyle Larson, Chevrolet, 128.848 mph.
- (20) Matt Kenseth, Toyota, 129.675 mph.
- (51) Justin Allgaier, Chevrolet, 129.351 mph.
- (21) Ryan Blaney(i), Ford, 129.212 mph.
- (3) Austin Dillon, Chevrolet, 129.151 mph.
- (16) Greg Biffle, Ford, 128.822 mph.
- (31) Ryan Newman, Chevrolet, 128.701 mph.
- (5) Kasey Kahne, Chevrolet, 128.606 mph.
- (88) Dale Earnhardt Jr., Chevrolet, 128.537 mph.
- (1) Jamie McMurray, Chevrolet, 128.262 mph.
- (6) Trevor Bayne, Ford, 128.193 mph.
- (78) Martin Truex Jr, Chevrolet, 128.159 mph.
- (24) Jeff Gordon, Chevrolet, 127.988 mph.
- (47) AJ Allmendinger, Chevrolet, 128.563 mph.
- (9) Sam Hornish Jr., Ford, 128.253 mph.
- (34) Brett Moffitt #, Ford, 128.176 mph.
- (13) Casey Mears, Chevrolet, 127.920 mph.
- (27) Paul Menard, Chevrolet, 127.801 mph.
- (95) Michael McDowell, Ford, 127.605 mph.
- (43) Aric Almirola, Ford, 127.563 mph.
- (10) Danica Patrick, Chevrolet, 127.537 mph.
- (35) Cole Whitt, Ford, 127.461 mph.
- (32) Josh Wise, Ford, 127.368 mph.
- (46) Michael Annett, Chevrolet, 127.241 mph.
- (7) Alex Bowman, Chevrolet, 127.208 mph.
- (38) David Gilliland, Ford, Owner Points
- (23) JJ Yeley(i), Toyota, Owner Points
- (40) Landon Cassill(i), Chevrolet, Owner Points
- (14) Tony Stewart, Chevrolet, Owner Points
- (98) Timmy Hill(i), Ford, Owner Points
- (83) Matt DiBenedetto #, Toyota, Owner Points
- (33) Mike Bliss(i), Chevrolet, Owner Points
3 drivers failed to qualify.
- (30) Travis Kvapil(i), Chevrolet, 126.545 mph.
- (26) Jeb Burton #, Toyota, 125.906 mph.
- (62) Reed Sorenson, Chevrolet, 125.150 mph.
Reid Spencer – NASCAR Wire Service
Image: Rainier Ehrhardt/NASCAR via Getty Images