Denny Hamlin set a new track qualifying record at Bristol (Ten.) Motor Speedway on Friday on his way to claiming the pole starting spot for Sunday’s Food City 500 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at the track. His time of 14.761 seconds broke the previous track record held by his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate and five-time Bristol winner Kyle Busch. It’s Hamlin’s second pole at Bristol.
“It’s fast,” Hamlin said. “It’s faster than I ever imagined going around this track. Every new rule change we have just makes these cars go a little bit faster. (Crew chief) Darian (Grubb) just made an excellent call with our adjustments and the team stepped up. We were pretty strategic in how we executed that qualifying session.”
Hamlin will be joined on the front row by Brad Keselowski on Sunday. Keselowski’s second-place start marks his third-straight front row start and his third in four races, so far, in 2014.
“Starting is important, but it’s 500 laps,” Keselowski said. “At the end of the day, a starting position isn’t relevant if you’re not fast in race trim, so qualifying well is great but not the whole world. What is important is having a good pit stall here.”
Matt Kenseth qualified third. Joey Logano, last week’s pole sitter, will start fourth, on the second row next to Kenseth. Marcos Ambrose rounded out the top-five in the second and final round of qualifying at Bristol.
The other seven drivers advancing to the second round of qualifying to set the pole include, in order of their starting position on Sunday, Jeff Gordon in sixth, Busch in seventh, Greg Biffle in eighth, Ryan Newman ninth, Kasey Kahne 10th, Jimmie Johnson 11th and Carl Edwards in 12th.
“It was good to make the top-12,” Gordon said. “We were fast in practice when we moved over into qualifying runs. We had pretty high expectations, and it was really good first run. The car was a little bit tight, so we were just trying to figure out how much to free it up for that second run. We went out there and the car was decent, but just not quite free enough.”
Logano led the way for the 12 drivers advancing to the second round by posting the fastest lap time in round one. Gordon was second-fastest in round one.
Forty-five drivers made qualifying attempts in round one, hoping to garner one of the 43 starting spots. The two drivers who failed to make the race were David Reutimann and Dave Blaney.
– Photo courtesy of Getty Images for NASCAR