By: Brian Smith
Denny Hamlin has led almost 6500 laps at Dover International Speedway over the course of his career. None of those laps have been the last one.
He hopes to change that come Sunday, and will have a good spot from which to do so. Hamlin won the Coors Light Pole for the “FedEx 400 benefiting Autism Speaks” NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race, circling the Monster Mile at 160.121 MPH. He stayed ahead of Martin Truex Jr., who will start second after a lap of 159.723 MPH.
Hamlin took the pole after a strong showing in the day’s first practice, when he ran second-fastest behind Jimmie Johnson. He was one of the few drivers that didn’t struggle with the track conditions at qualifying, which many drivers lamented were much different than they were earlier in the day.
“Obviously our car’s shown speed all day long, which is something that we haven’t had lately, so we’re kind of building and getting a little bit better and starting to figure out our setups and whatnot. So we’re getting better and obviously this kind of shows it.”
Truex Jr., who comes into the race second in the points standings, jumped from 10th-fastest in the practice session to second.
“It felt like the first two rounds we left a little bit out of there, tried to save some on the tires,” he said. “In the third round, for some reason it got a little bit tight. I’m excited to see what it does in race trim. Typically we race better than we qualify, so it’s a good sign for us.”
Kyle Larson will start third as he looks for his first career Sprint Cup win. He ran well at Dover in both races last year during his rookie season, starting fifth and finishing 11th in the spring and starting seventh and finishing sixth in the fall. He ran all 400 laps in both races, which is no small feat for a rookie at the Monster Mile.
“For whatever reason, we’ve qualified well here,” Larson said. “We raced well here too at the end of last year. So hopefully we have a good weekend. It’s been a good start. I thought our car was good in race trim too. I’m looking forward to tomorrow and trying to tweak some things to make it even faster.”
Matt Kenseth will start fourth, with Joey Logano rolling out fifth. Kevin Harvick, Greg Biffle, Carl Edwards, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Kyle Busch will round out the starting ten.
Jimmie Johnson will start 14th as he looks for his 10th career win at Dover. Those 10 wins include races started from the 10th and 19th positions, but those were 13 years ago when Johnson swept the 2002 race season at the track. His last two wins have come from the fourth and eighth starting positions, respectively.
Despite leading the day’s practice, Johnson was one of several top drivers that didn’t make the final qualifying round. Kurt Busch also missed the final round and will start inside Johnson. Kasey Kahne, Tony Stewart, and Danica Patrick were among those not to make it out of the first qualifying round.
After two practices on Saturday, the cars will be ready to go for Sunday’s 1:00 pm race start.