Denny Hamlin, driver of the No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota, has qualifying the new Gen-6 race car figured out. On Friday, he claimed the pole for Sunday's 400-mile race at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif., with a lap time of 38.410 seconds. It's his third-consecutive front row start, five races into the 2013 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season.
The No. 16 Roush Fenway Ford of Greg Biffle and the No. 2 Penske Racing Ford of reigning series champion Brad Keselowski qualified second and third. Biffle took second with a 38.458-second lap and Keselowski third with a lap time of 38.472 seconds. But neither driver will start in those positions near the front, as both changed engines prior to qualifying. As a result, they'll both have to fall to the back for the green flag on Sunday.
I thought we would've got knocked off going out so early.
"We only made two runs on the race track; we only made eight laps," Biffle said of his lack of practice time due to his engine change. "It seems like less practice is good for us."
Drivers who went out later in the qualifying session were expected to have an advantage over those who went out early, but Hamlin went out third of the 43 who made qualifying attempts and held on to the provisional pole for the remainder of the session.
"Really, I thought we would've got knocked off going out so early," Hamlin said at the end of qualifying. "I would love to see what we could run right now."
His JGR teammate, Kyle Busch in the No. 18 Toyota, also went out early in the session and held the provisional second spot most of the way through qualifying until Keselowski Biffle and Keselowski went out late and turned in top-three laps. By the end of qualifying, Busch was fourth. Matt Kenseth rounded out the top-five in the No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota. Joey Logano was sixth in the No. 22 Penske Racing Ford.
"Underestimated what the track was doing, but this car's really good in race trim," Logano said.
Ford and Toyota dominated the top-10 in qualifying. Martin Truex Jr. was seventh in the No. 56 Michael Waltrip Racing Toyota, and MWR teammate Mark Martin was ninth in the No. 55 Toyota. The only Chevrolets in the top-10 were Tony Stewart, who was eighth in the No. 14 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet, and the No. 78 Furniture Row Racing Chevrolet of Kurt Busch in 10th.
Forty-three drivers made qualifying attempts for the 43 available spots on the starting grid, so all who made attempts made the race.