After missing four races due to injury, Denny Hamlin is finding himself, somewhat literally, needing to put the pedal to the metal in order to make the Chase for the Sprint Cup.
It appears that he’s doing just that after taking the pole for Sunday’s “FedEx 400 benefiting Autism Speaks” at Dover International Speedway, his third NASCAR Sprint Cup Series pole of the season and second in as many weeks.
Hamlin’s fast lap of 157.978 mph put him ahead of Martin Truex Jr., who will start second after posting a lap of 157.798 mph. He had to wait out a good portion of qualifiers before he knew he had the spot locked down in his No. 11 FedEx/Autism Speaks Toyota, which is sporting a special autism awareness paint scheme this weekend.
“I thought all the really strong cars were later in the field,” Hamlin said. “When I ran the lap, I wasn’t in love with it. I knew the track conditions were really bad. We were sixth in practice and were only a tenth off of what we ran in practice. So it was cool that we’re obviously giving our pit crew a huge advantage when those guys are already the best on pit road.”
Hamlin’s Joe Gibbs Racing teammates Kyle Busch and Matt Kenseth qualified third and fourth, respectively. It’s the second consecutive race at Dover where Toyotas have had strong qualifying efforts.
Hamlin took the pole in last fall’s “AAA 400” NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Dover as well, while Truex qualified third and Busch fifth for that race. Busch didn’t really have an idea as to why the manufacturer has been strong here in recent qualifying.
“It just seems to work out that way, I guess,” Busch said. “It’s the same four guys in the same five spots each time. Denny’s gotten a lot better here the last few times, Truex is always good here, Kenseth is always good, we’re always strong here. It is what it is.”
Busch and Hamlin will now hope to get some luck when race day rolls around on Sunday. Last fall, the drivers ran 1-2 until late in the race, when the need to conserve fuel knocked them down to 7th and 8th place finishes, respectively.
Ryan Newman qualified fifth, the only non-Toyota in the top six. He was followed by Mark Martin, Kevin Harvick, Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano and Jamie McMurray in the top 10.
Points leader Jimmie Johnson, who is looking for what would be a record eighth career win at Dover, was fastest in the day’s practice session but qualified 24th. It is Johnson’s worst starting position at the Monster Mile since the spring race in 2007, when he started 27th. He’s been on the pole four times at Dover since then.
Carl Edwards, sitting third in points entering the weekend, will start 18th. Fifth-place points holder Clint Bowyer will go out 15th.
For the complete starting lineup, click here. Green flag for the “FedEx 400 benefiting Autism Speaks” NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race is at 1 p.m. Sunday.