Denny Hamlin Gives Toyota Front-Row Qualifying Sweep
Denny Hamlin secured his first pole position in over a year in Friday night's qualifying session for Sunday's Bank of America 500 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
Hamlin clocked in with the fastest speed in the third and final round, turning in a lap of 191.598 mph in the no. 11 Toyota Camry to bump Kevin Harvick from the top spot. Hamlin's Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Matt Kenseth also got the better of Harvick to take the outside pole to give Toyota and JGR a sweep of the front row.
Harvick managed to hold onto third, followed by Kyle Busch and Clint Bowyer.
Hamlin's pole-winning effort was his first of the season and his first pole since September of 2016 at Richmond. It was his second-career Charlotte pole and the 25th of his Cup Series career.
"It's good, you always like keeping streaks alive," said Hamlin. "Hadn’t had a pole this year and have had one every other year, but it’s good. We’ve been so close and we’ve made so many final rounds, been in the top-five, but not as fast as our teammates. Today we adjusted on it, got it a little better each round and had some good will.
"This is a track position type race track. All of them are, but any mile-and-a-half you go to you want to have the number one pit stall, you want to be out in clean air."
Hamlin came back in the third and final round to spoil the party for Harvick, who had the field covered through the opening two rounds along Bowyer.
Harvick topped the opening round with a lap of 192.589 mph to lead Bowyer, Ryan Newman, Daniel Suarez and Ryan Blaney and followed it up by running 191.945 mph to top the second round. Bowyer again took second, followed by Hamlin, Kenseth and Kurt Busch.
In the final round, Harvick was out first and once again motored to the top of the speed chart before Hamlin took to the track and bumped off the defending polesitter.
"I didn't feel like I got to the green quite as good (in the final round) and I felt like I had a little bit to spare in one and I didn't," said Harvick. "I got the ground just a little bit and got up a foot and just had to wait a split-second, but we have a really good car. We had three good rounds, a good starting spot and we'll go from there."
Busch and Earnhardt's issues in inspection were largely to due problems they encountered earlier in the day in practice, with both smacking the outside wall coming off turn four due to the inconsistent application of the PJ1 TrackBite traction compound that had been applied to the track, particularly in turn four, where, in the heat of the day, the traction compound had seemed to make the track slicker.
Earnhardt, Jr. said the traction compound actually had the opposite effect, which ultimately played a role in his incident during the afternoon practice session.
"I think you guys saw it during practice, the stuff that they sprayed down it has had a bad reaction to the sun or something that has made it really slick," said Earnhardt. "We saw at Bristol, it takes some heat and some activity to work it in and get it to activate and create grip, but we never seen it like this. When they put it on, the time of day, the sun beating on it all day, I don't know, but something has made it to where it doesn't have grip, it's the opposite."
Earnhardt, Jr., making his final Charlotte start, was forced to go to a backup car, while Kyle Busch's crew elected to fix the primary car.
"I lost all my confidence after that last run we had there in practice," said Kyle Busch. "(Our) Camry was really good today, just unfortunate that I got up in the stuff, the grippy stuff and it was slick. It just kind of washed us right out to the fence. We got it pretty good, so hands off – hats off to all my guys and all the hands that were on our race car today. They just worked really really hard to get it prepared and luckily enough we got it through tech and was able to get it on the track to make some qualifying runs and qualified fourth."
Track officials later acknowledged that the PJ1 TrackBite traction compound had not been applied as evenly in turn four as it was in turn two due to a problem with the sprayer that was used, and the track will re-apply the compound before Sunday's race.
DENNY HAMLIN, No. 11 FedEx Office Toyota Camry, Joe Gibbs Racing
Starting Position: 1st
How big is it to get the pole at a race like this?
“It’s good, you always like to keep streaks alive. Hadn’t had a pole this year and have had one every other year, but it’s good. We’ve been so close and we’ve made so many final rounds, been in the top-five, but not as fast as our teammates. Today we adjusted on it, got it a little better each round and had some good will.
How important is it for you to start up front given how important track position is at Charlotte?
“It’s really big. This is a track position type race track. All of them are, but any mile and half you go to you want to have the number one pit stall, you want to be out in clean air. Good thing with our FedEx Toyota we had a good, fast car and put it on the top.”
What’s more important at Charlotte, the track position starting on the pole or the pit selection?
“I think it’s 50/50. Track position is only good if your car is fast enough to hold the position. But that pit stall can pay off all day long and we know my pit crew can do amazing things with a good pit stall, so we’ll see how it all pans out.”
Talk about your qualifying run and expectations for the race.
“The day really started off really well. The first time we hit the track we were P1 and just kind of ran the same lap time throughout the whole first practice and then we ran about the same lap time again in qualifying and it was enough. The good part about it with our cars it seemed like we got just a tiny bit faster each and every round when a lot of guys started backing up and that was the key for us to get the pole.”
Did you know it was your 25th career pole? Do poles mean anything to you other than you get a better starting spot?
“I had one pole and at least one win in every year of my career, so I knew that the time was running out to get a pole because I hadn’t had one yet in 2017. I didn’t keep track of the numbers, like how many, I just care about keeping the streak of winning at least one in every season alive.”
Was practice earlier today meaningful if they’re going to have to reapply the PJ1?
“That’s the first I’ve heard of the sprayer malfunction. My guess is that it was just the mixture was wrong. I don’t know. It looks the same in (Turn) 1 and 2 to 3 and 4, but obviously some guys got up in it and it was treacherous. The only difference is that last time they drug tires on the PJ1 here last time and I thought that that kind of burnt in the stickiness. That PJ1 is not sticky until it gets hot and even here in the spring it took many many laps of cars running on it for it to get primed and get where it was good. I don’t think we should draw too many conclusions off of practice. The first few cars, yes when they hit it it’s going to be slick, but I think once we get the XFINITY race in and we start to see guys running in the middle and top, it’s going to burn it in enough to where it’s going to be very effective I think on Sunday. They know better than I do how they apply it and the proper way to apply it, but my guess is it must have been some kind of mixture problem between the two turns.”
Does starting up front mean anything strategically in acquiring stage points?
“I think if there’s anyone that can afford to start deep, it’s probably (Martin) Truex. He had so many points. For us it’s a big bonus because we’re in that kind of a middle spot in the grid right now where we have some decent playoff points, but we’re still 40 or so behind Truex and maybe 30 or so behind Kyle (Busch) and we can knock a big chunk out of that if we run up front in the first two stages. So we’ve got the starting spot to do it, so we need to log all the points we can while we have the track position and I’m glad we’re starting off this round this way and hopefully our car is good enough to stay there to get those points early on.”
MATT KENSETH, No. 20 Tide Pods Toyota Camry, Joe Gibbs Racing
How much has this race track changed with the PJ1?
“Qualifying I didn’t have as big of a problem today. I was one of the most conservative guys probably just entering real straight, entering underneath it. It’s just strange the way they applied it. They applied it so far out on the straightaway, off of (Turn) 2 and into 3 that it’s impossible not to really drive across it. It was a challenging day, but it ended decent for us.”
Do you think the track will change throughout this weekend with driver feedback?
“I have no idea. I don’t have any idea what they’ll do. I think there’s a lot of variables most likely coming this weekend, most of it being weather – weather and cars on the track. We’ll just have to see what happens. It’s the same for everybody.”
Talk about your qualifying run and expectations for the race.
“Our qualifying run was good. Obviously saved our best lap for last. Practice was very challenging today. I was probably the last one to kind of be aggressive enough and run through that stuff on the track. I was pretty conservative most of the time. Got a good lap second round, made some good adjustments. Got a good lap in the third round. I just was a little too aggressive trying to get to the green and probably cost us the pole. Overall it was a good day for us.”
Do you have confidence going into Sunday starting on the front row?
“I mean I know that we’ve said this over and over again, but track position is obviously important – track position, restarts, pit stops, strategy, all that stuff. Not probably the easiest track we go to typically to pass, now being a day race and that stuff maybe to widen out some and be able to pass a little bit easier than normal hopefully. It’s always important to be up front and try to get a good pit stall for Sunday. It’s how you want to start your weekend.”
KYLE BUSCH, No. 18 Interstate Batteries Toyota Camry, Joe Gibbs Racing
Starting Position: 4th
What were you missing there in qualifying to contend for the pole?
“Confidence. I lost all my confidence after that last run we had there in practice. The Interstate Batteries Camry was really good today, just unfortunate that I got up in the stuff, the grippy stuff and it was slick. It just kind of washed us right out to the fence. We got it pretty good, so hands off – hats off to all my guys and all the hands that were on our race car today. They just worked really really hard to get it prepared and luckily enough we got it through tech and was able to get it on the track to make some qualifying runs and qualified fourth. Way better than being 40th or whatever so we get a good start for Sunday and we’ll go get them from there.”
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