Denny Hamlin set a new track qualifying record at Pocono Raceway in Long Pond, Pa., on Friday with a lap time of 49.610 seconds (181.415 mph) during NASCAR Sprint Cup Series qualifying to claim the pole for Sunday’s Pocono 400 at the track. It’s his second pole start of the season and the third of his career at Pocono.
“It’s a tough balance, but we really just made the car a lot better,” Hamlin said. “Each session, our balance got a little bit better, and we were able to get a little bit more speed out of it. That’s kind of what you do, play it enough in the first few rounds to get to the final round where you go all out.”
Hamlin will be joined on the front row Sunday by Kurt Busch who was second-fastest to Hamlin in the third of three rounds of qualifying on Friday.
“It didn’t feel that close in the car,” Busch said of missing the pole by just two-thousandths of a second. “Turn one we ended up on the tight side on the exit of the corner. I said to myself, ‘A lot of these laps aren’t perfect anymore. Go get what you can in other spots of the track.’ That is what it’s all about is the teamwork side of it.”
Busch was also second-fastest in the first round of qualifying, but in that round, the fastest speed was turned in by Brian Vickers, with a 49.992-second/180.0299 mph lap. Jeff Gordon was third in the first round.
the second round was Busch’s time to shine, as he had the fastest lap of the round with a 49.700-second/181.087 mph lap. Brad Keselowski and Kyle Busch were second and third-fastest in round two.
Keselowski was third in the final round to claim the starting spot on the inside of the second row for Sunday’s race. He’ll share the second row with Kevin Harvick. Gordon rounded out the top-five in round three and, therefore, will start fifth on Sunday.
The other drivers advancing to the third round and claiming starting spots sixth through 12th were (in the order in which they qualified): Kyle Busch, Joey Logano, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Vickers, Carl Edwards, Austin Dillon and Tony Stewart.
Forty-three drivers, the exact number needed for a full Sprint Cup Series race field, made laps in round one, so all who attempted to qualify garnered spots on the race starting grid.
– Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images