Hamlin's 202.74 mph lap wins pole at Michigan
This time, he left no doubt as to who had the fastest car. Hamlin’s No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota was fastest in opening practice--and fastest in all three rounds of knockout qualifying at Michigan International Speedway.
For the second straight week, Hamlin and JGR teammate Kyle Busch (202.731 mph) will start 1-2. Hamlin edged Busch by 0.011 seconds to earn his second Busch Pole Award of the season, his first at Michigan and the 28th of his career.
A victory from the pole would continue Hamlin’s streak of at least one victory per year, starting with his 2006 rookie season.
“It is a very important streak,” Hamlin asserted. “I think about it… I thought it was all over in 2013, the year that I broke my back (in a wreck at Auto Club Speedway), and we won in the final race of the season to keep the streak alive.
Busch was on pace for the pole before losing time through Turns 3 and 4 in the money round.
“I thought 3 and 4 went OK,” Busch said. “Certainly, I don’t think it was my best time through there. The first couple of runs, we’d been fighting ‘loose,’ so you kind of drive a little differently to be ready for the loose situation, and then on the final run, we were tight.
“You guard your entry or guard your center or whatever you do for the loose, and that doesn’t happen, and you’re tight, and then you’re too tight because you guarded for the loose. Just ever so slightly just missed it, I guess. Overall, I didn’t think we were going to qualify there, so we’re certainly pleased with that.
“Denny’s been fast so far from unload, so good for them to capitalize on that.”
Kevin Harvick, like Busch a six-time winner this season, qualified third at 202.100 mph. Erik Jones was fourth at 201.805 mph, putting three Gibbs Toyotas in the top four on the grid.
The Richard Childress Racing duo of 2018 Daytona 500 winner Austin Dillon and Ryan Newman will start from the third row after qualifying fifth and sixth, respectively. Martin Truex Jr., Ryan Blaney, Joey Logano and Alex Bowman completed the top 10.
The No. 19 Toyota of Daniel Suarez, who had posted the third fastest lap in opening practice, twitched out of control in Turn 2 in the opening round and tapped the outside wall. Suarez posted no time for the session and will start from the back of the field.
“I just got loose,” said Suarez, who had asked for adjustment after his car felt slightly tight in practice. “We just crossed the line. Once we got in the gray (out of the preferred groove), it was like being on ice.”
Suarez was optimistic his team could fix the cosmetic damage and get it ready for Saturday’s two practice sessions and Sunday’s race.
“I think we’ll see the 19 passing a lot of cars on Sunday,” Suarez said.
Starting Position: 1st
How confident were you that your time would hold up for the pole?
“I actually wasn’t that confident – I didn’t get all of it for sure, but the team gave me a great driving car and one that was just easily and consistently able to back-up times and time after time we got faster on the race track today. Proud of this whole FedEx Toyota team. These guys are really stepping up and we’re starting to make a little hay now.”
How does this pole speak to the hard work of this team in recent weeks?
“We love to see results when you work so hard. The toughest part is when you work really hard and you don’t get the results and really we had unfortunate circumstances happen to us last weekend with that stop, but overall just been so happy with our performance. Showing up today with a car that was just driving great all day.”
What is it you’re looking for in race trim tomorrow?
“We have to get it driving just like it is right now – consistent and easy to drive at this point. You have to make sure you have that same sustainability in race trim for 200 laps around here.”
What does it mean to get the pole here at Michigan?
“We’re working hard and every team works hard, but I especially have worked harder in the last two months for sure than I’ve ever had to before to figure out what we need to do to be better and be faster and get better finishes. Unfortunately last week we had a bad finish because of something that I felt like was out of our control with that pit stop deal with Brad (Keselowski), but I think we’re starting to see results. You can definitely see that we’re gaining speed, gaining momentum even though the finish doesn’t necessarily show it. I’m very optimistic about this week. This is a race track that we have had success as before and never qualified on the pole here before, but we have a car that’s been driving good all day and if we can duplicate that and have it driving the same in race trim, it should be a great day for us.”
Do you feel like you have as much or more speed than last year?
“It’s been just crazy things that have happened that you think can’t possibly happen. We have had a tremendous amount of bad luck – luck and preparation and you get into that whole quote thing, but last week was luck from our standpoint. We weren’t doing anything and then we got a penalty from our side, from someone running over our pit crew guys so that was a crazy sequence and weeks before that. As far as speed, off the front three guys I feel like we’ve been off a little bit all year. I feel like there was a time in the spring and early summer where I felt confident that we were the fourth fastest car every week and then the last month and a half came and we just struggled at some race tracks and just perplexing that I could get in the car and drive correctly or not the way that I needed them to driver. Now we’re starting to turn back the other way and be pretty fast again. I think we’ve really worked on the right things to get us to this point and nothing is more frustrating than working as hard as I have and the team has over the last two months and not getting any results. Now hopefully these two poles in a row will lead to leading more laps, winning more stages and winning races and then becoming someone that can contend with the top guys, that’s the ultimate goal. We can’t take anything for granted at this point, passing through the first round of Playoffs used to be just a breeze and a month and a half ago I said I was scared to get through the second round. If we run like this, we will be fine.”
How important is your win streak from year to year?
“It is, it is a very important streak. I think about it and I thought it was all over in 2013 – the year that I broke my back and we won in the final race of the season to keep the streak alive. You look back at the really great drivers of NASCAR and they had long streaks – 10 years and above of winning in a row and you just want that to go on for sure, it’s important.”
Have you met Jim France or how well do you know him?
“I don’t know him that well, I spoke with him just briefly a few times – greeting at certain events that NASCAR has, but I kind of think it’s a lot like Coy (Gibbs) and Joe (Gibbs). Coy was over on the motocross side and now he’s on the Cup side, it’s kind of that same thing with Jim – he was over on the IMSA side and now he’s over here on the Cup side. He’s obviously, he said he’s not a very talkative guy, but their whole family has done a great job of really rejuvenating some of their race tracks and making them better and I’m glad that they’re reinvesting in our sport and they’re here for the long haul. I’m confident in Jim doing a great job.”
Did you get your Joe Gibbs hat back and what do you think of Kids Drive NASCAR?
“I did and that was an awesome gift that I got from Fedex and they manage to surprise me all the time with gifts and things that I never expect them to do. They knew about that hat that I had lost and my parents told me not to go to school with that hat, I was going to lose it and I sure did. They were able to get me that same hat that I lost, I just need a signature on it. I’ll get that on Sunday and the Kids Drive NASCAR, it’s really how I decided I wanted to be a race car driver. I went to a race when I was five years old at Richmond and about two or three laps of the cars going around for me to realize that racing was in my blood and it was my passion. I loved the smell of the tires and fuel and the sound when the cars went by and it was just mesmerizing for me. It’s what we did every Sunday was watch NASCAR races, but going to one for sure changed my outlook of what I wanted to do.”
Do you feel you can be the fourth driver at Homestead?
“That’s what we’re working for and we’re going to assume that all three of them make Homestead. At this point, with the lack of Playoff points, it’s my opinion that we can run up front a lot, but I think we need to win in the third Playoff bracket stage. I think winning at Phoenix, Texas or Martinsville needs to be on our agenda if we’re going to go to Homestead. That is unless we start winning now. We’re obviously sure we want to be the fourth driver, but we can’t just assume that past results are going to make us run well. We have to work extra hard and that’s what we’re doing and that’s what you’re seeing right now.”
Do you feel whoever is running the sport needs to be visible?
“I think that all – accessible, everyone has been accessible I would say. Visible, I don’t know whether you have to be visible or not, but it doesn’t hurt to show your face here and there. Brian (France) came to a handful of races a year and there was a lot of work that I know he did that we never saw. I believe that he had a passion for this sport and making it better and he was in a lot of meetings that we never even knew about. Just because you’re seen doesn’t’ necessarily always mean that you’re working harder.”
KYLE BUSCH, No. 18 Interstate Batteries Toyota Camry, Joe Gibbs Racing
Starting Position: 2nd
How do you feel about your chances to win on Sunday?
“This has always been a tricky place for me to be able to find the right setup and get it to where we need it. We did the same thing there again in qualifying as we typically do here, we’re behind it seems when we go out there for the first run, but then we make adjustments to it each and every run and we get better to have a shot or get closer to the front at least. Just missed it a little bit here today to be able to get that number one spot and that number one pit stop because that’s really important here at Michigan. We’ll see how Sunday goes, but typically I wouldn’t say that Michigan is one of our best places.”
Were you unable to get to the gas off of turn three on that final lap?
“I thought three and four went okay, certainly I don’t think it was my best time through there, but we had been fighting loose so kind of drive a little differently in order to be ready for the loose situation and then on the final run we were tight. You guard your entry, you guard your center and you do whatever you do for the loose and that doesn’t happen and then you’re tight and then you’re too tight because you guarded for the loose. Just ever so slightly missed it I guess. Overall, I didn’t think we were going to qualify there so definitely pleased with that. Denny’s (Hamlin) been really, really fast so far from unload so good for them to capitalize on that.”
How has the teamwork been between yourself and Daniel Suàrez?
“I’m not sure I’ve really given him any confidence, but just they’ve kind of mimicked more towards the 18 car as far as setup and things like that I guess just from talking to Daniel, whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing, I’m not sure. I was really, really loose to fire off in qualifying and it looked like so was Daniel and unfortunately he just wasn’t able to make it through on a lap and get a time in for them to be able to work on it where we did and we got better throughout the rounds. It certainly is good to see him running better and we know he’s capable of it, he’s won races before, he’s been competitive before and hoping that all four of us at JGR can be strong contenders the rest of the year.”
How receptive has Noah Gragson been with the advice you’ve provided him for tomorrow’s NCWTS race?
“Good. I think that Noah (Gragson) does his homework, which a lot of drivers do and a lot of drivers don’t. Noah is one of those that’s working hard and certainly asking some questions and doing a good job this week. Michigan is a tough race and it’s such a chess match. You try to tell a guy how to move a piece and you can tell him the exact same way how to move that piece as you did before, but the match is different so it doesn’t mean the same outcome. It’s obviously he has to be able to play his game and strategize his was of doing what he has to do to his pieces – Michigan is tough that way.”
Do you have a relationship with Jim France and would you like more of one now with him as CEO of NASCAR?
“I probably would admit that I have a better relationship with Jim (France) than I did with Brian (France). I’ve seen Jim around, I’ve talked to him a few times and he’s kind of been more of the IMSA side for NASCAR and now is on our side here with the stock car side. I’m looking forward to building that relationship more and seeing what all that entails. It’s very, very early and this is his first opportunity to be here at the track here this week. I believe he’s here and we’re supposed to meet tonight. I’m looking forward to that. I think there needs to be a good dialogue between the leadership of NASCAR, whoever that is from top through the next 10 and the drivers and the team owners and stuff like that. Hopefully Jim can be that guy to give us that type of confidence in everything going on.”
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