Denny Hamlin stole pole from Brad Keselowski in a busy final qualifying session tonight at the Phoenix International Raceway.
Denny Hamlin zoomed to the pole position for the Quicken Loans Race for Heroes 500 at the Phoenix International Raceway with Sunday’s all-important race setting the Final Four-style field for the NASCAR Sprint Cup championship. The championship will be settled a week from now in the season finale at the Homestead-Miami Speedway.
Driving the FedEx Ground Toyota, Hamlin raced around the tricky mile oval at a record speed of 142.113 miles per hour. However, the overall track record went to Joey Logano, who hit 141.141 mph in the opening round of qualifications. Going into the weekend, Brad Keselowski held the qualification record of 139.384 mph, which he set eight months ago.
In total, 27 of the 43 qualifiers broke the track record. And a new track record was set for the 23rd time in 2014. Hamlin, a Chase contender, earned his third pole in 2014, the 20th in career and second in 19 starts at Phoenix.
“Obviously, we had a good day and (we) just kept trying to get our car a little bit better with every run, but (pole) out of the blue from my perspective as I didn’t think we had a pole-winning car,” Hamlin said. “It was a little unexpected as I had thought a top-eight would be a huge bonus. It showed we have a lot of speed in the car, and now we have to figure out how to optimize it for 312 laps around this race track.
“We know what our pit crew can do, and we gave them the No. 1 pit stall. That gives us a bonus there to go along with the pole, and it shows that our car has some speed. The good thing was that we were gaining speed on older tires. I am excited for Sunday and hope to lead some laps and establish ourselves early.”
Keselowski made a valiant last second effort to gain the pole but had to settle for second-best at 142.079 mph. He drove the Miller Lite Ford.
“We are very optimistic about Sunday, but other drivers are good here, too,” Keselowski said. “Kevin (Harvick) has run really well here for last five or six races. He will be one of the guys to beat, and so it should be a great battle come Sunday and I am looking forward to it and seeing how it plays out.”
Throughout the post-race interviews, Keselowski was barraged with questions about the recent race at the Texas Motor Speedway but the hard-charging driver refused to be drawn into the controversial race finish.
Kevin Harvick and Logano qualified for the second row and row three went to Matt Kenseth and Kyle Busch.
Said Harvick about his qualification run, “We just didn’t connect all the dots. On the last round, we got half (the dots) on one lap and half on the other lap. But our car is really fast and good in race trim, so everything is good.”
Jeff Gordon and rookie star Kyle Larson earned fourth-row starting spots. Rounding out the first six rows were Brian Vickers, Kurt Busch, Paul Menard and Casey Mears. Six of the eight Chase contenders qualified in first six rows and two others did not. Carl Edwards timed 13th and Ryan Newman was far back in 20th.
Texas victor Jimmie Johnson qualified 15th fastest with teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr. a tick of watch back in 16th.
In the opening round of qualifications, Logano led the way and chasing him were Hamlin, Keselowski, Larson, Harvick, Gordon, Vickers, Kyle Busch, Kenseth, Kurt Busch, Menard and Mears. All 12 shattered the track record.
Sunday’s race will be telecast live by ESPN at 3 p.m. ET.