The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series runs its longest race of the season on Sunday evening at Charlotte Motor Speedway -- the Coca-Cola 600. But during pole qualifying at the track on Thursday, the emphasis was on one fast lap. Denny Hamlin, driver of the No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota, turned in the fastest lap of the qualifying session, with a lap time of 27.604 seconds to claim the pole for the 600-mile race on Sunday. It will be his second pole of the season but his first in 16 races at CMS. But more important to Hamlin than the pole, is having good track position around lap 300.
"You just try to set your car up to be in good track position on lap 300 because the cooler the temperatures get, the harder it is to pass," Hamlin said.
Kurt Busch turned in the second-fastest qualifying time of 27.661 seconds to start his No. 78 Furniture Row Racing Chevrolet alongside Hamlin on the front row. But the second-fastest lap wasn't enough for Busch.
“I didn’t do my job," he said. "That just shows how good this team is right now. These Furniture Row guys are on it. They keep brining piece after piece to the race track. I couldn’t be happier for them and more proud of them. Todd Berrier (crew chief) and these guys it feels really good right now. I left some on the table in (turns) three and four, but I nailed (turns) one and two. I felt really good about it going down the back straightaway and I had a conversation with myself ‘how hard do I drive it into (turn) three?’ I just I still didn’t quite hit my marks in (turns) three and four. That just shows how good this car is right now.”
Matt Kenseth qualified third in the No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota to give JGR two of the top-three starting spots.
Busch was the only non-Toyota driver to claim one of the top-five spots on the starting grid, as Michael Waltrip Racing drivers, Mark Martin in the No. 55 Toyota and Clint Bowyer in the No. 15 Toyota were the fourth and fifth-fastest in qualifying.
The fastest Ford on Friday was the No. 16 Roush Fenway Racing Ford of Greg Biffle, qualifying seventh. Biffle was the only Ford driver to crack the top-10.
“That’s all I’ve got. I didn’t have any more," Biffle said. "It was perfect on both ends. I just breathed the throttle down there in one and two. I let off less than I thought I should have down here and the car just kind of slid the front, slid the back, slid the front, but didn’t move up the track. I felt like, ‘Oh my gosh, that was phenomenal. I got it perfect,’ because hardly ever can you say you got it perfect, but I got every ounce that car could get but didn’t scrub any speed and didn’t leave any on the table and we’re about a tenth-and-a-half off.”
Others in the top-10 include the No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet of Kasey Kahne in sixth, the No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota of Kyle Busch in eighth, the No. 1 Earnhardt Ganassi Chevrolet of Jamie McMurray in ninth, and the No. 39 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet of Ryan Newman in 10th.
Forty-four drivers made qualifying attempts with the hopes of garnering one of the 43 spots on the starting grid. The one driver failing to make the race was Mike Bliss.