“Really, I thought we would’ve got knocked off, going so early,” Hamlin said at the end of qualifying on Friday for Sunday’s Auto Club 400 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif. “I would love to see what we could run right now.”
After all, Hamlin went out third out of 43 cars in the session in which most thought going out later would be an advantage. His 38.410-second lap around ACS was good enough for the pole, anyway, giving him his third-straight front row start.
His Joe Gibbs Racing teammate, Kyle Busch, also went out early and posted a fast enough lap time that kept him next to Hamlin on the provisional front row through much of the session. Brad Keselowski and Greg Biffle knocked Busch back a couple of spots to fourth, though, when they went out late. Even so, Busch will actually wind up starting second when the green flag waves on Sunday, as both Biffle and Keselowski drop to the back because of an engine change.
“We only made two runs on the race track,” Biffle said as a result of his engine change during practice. “We only made eight laps. It seems like less practice is good for us.”
Matt Kenseth qualified fifth, putting all three Joe Gibbs entries in the top-five spots on the starting grid. Toyota and Ford dominated the top-10 in qualifying, with Tony Stewart and Kurt Busch being the only Chevrolet drivers cracking the top-10. Stewart was eighth in qualifying and Busch 10th.
Other qualifiers inside the top-10 included Joey Logano in sixth, Martin Truex Jr. in seventh and Mark Martin in ninth.
Forty-three cars made attempts to qualify for the 43-car race field, so everyone who hit the track on Friday made the race.
– Photo courtesy of Getty Images for NASCAR