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Throughout his career, Denny Hamlin and the Monster Mile have had quite a contentious relationship. From the fall race in 2007 to the spring race in 2009, he didn’t finish better than 36th at Dover International Speedway. In one of those races, he was dead last. His struggles at the track are such that he actually confessed to seeking advice from his sports psychologist about it, and that advice was for Hamlin to “love” the track.
That task might be a little bit easier for the driver of the No. 11 FedEx Toyota after he picked up the pole for the Sunday, Sept. 30 “AAA 400″ NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at the Monster Mile, a week after a dominating win at New Hampshire. Hamlin heads into the race third in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup standings, just seven points behind leader Jimmie Johnson, so it’s important for Hamlin to buck his trends at Dover if he wants to leave with the Chase lead.
But Hamlin explained that while his driving style usually clashes with what it takes to be successful at Dover, the bulk of any success he might have lies with his car – and his cars have been very good.
“I think it’s probably 75 percent the car and 25 percent the driver,” Hamlin said. “I typically don’t run as strong on corner entry and use less brake. Here it just really rewards driving in hard, using the brake and just smacking it on exit. I’m usually better with throttle management on exit. The concrete, I don’t’ have too good a feel for. It’s tough for me to change the way I’ve been driving for 25-plus years when I come to this track. But that’s the only way you can continue to stay on top in this sport is just continue to evolve, because these drivers are just too good.”
Toyota ruled the roost in the first practice session on Friday and that continued in qualifying, with the manufacturer taking four of the top five spots – Hamlin and JGR teammate Kyle Busch (5th), with MWR teammates Clint Bowyer and Martin Truex, Jr. qualifying second and third, respectively. Sam Hornish Jr. drove his Dodge to a fourth-place qualifying effort, the only other manufacturer to nose into the top five.
Johnson has always been strong at Dover – he can take over the all-time wins record at the track from Richard Petty and Bobby Allison with a win this weekend – but he had an uncharacteristically slow qualifying effort and will start 11th, which is his lowest starting spot at Dover in four years.
Brad Keselowski, who’s just a point behind Johnson, will start right in front of him in 10th. Others in the top 10 include Greg Biffle in sixth, followed by Jeff Gordon, Ryan Newman and Kasey Kahne.
For complete qualifying results, click here.