Denny Hamlin may no longer be eligible to win this season’s Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series championship but he will be a factor in the season finale.
Hamlin, the last drive to make a qualifying attempt in the final round of knockout qualifying on Friday, snatched the pole away from fellow Toyota driver Martin Truex Jr.
Hamlin’s average lap speed of 173.980 mph just edged Truex (173.952 mph), who led the four drivers who are competing for the series title on Sunday.
Title contenders Kyle Busch, Brad Keselowski and Kevin Harvick will line up third, fifth and ninth, respectively.
The pole is Hamlin’s second of the season and 26th of his career.
“We had there by a little bit. I actually messed up a little in (Turns) 3 and 4,” Hamlin said. “Overall a great run for our team. Hopefully, we can have a good Sunday.”
Matt Kenseth will start fourth, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. sixth, Kyle Larson seventh, Kurt Busch eighth, Daniel Suarez 10th, Ryan Blaney 11th and Trevor Bayne ended up 12th.
“It definitely was still a really good day,” said Truex, “I’m just proud of everyone. We did what we needed to do and we’ll get to work tomorrow. I’m looking forward to it.”
|2||78||Martin Truex Jr.||Toyota||31.043||0.005||173.952|
|6||17||Ricky Stenhouse Jr.||Ford||31.330||0.292||172.359|
|24||88||Dale Earnhardt Jr.||Chevrolet||0.000||0.000|
|39||51||Ray Black Jr.||Chevrolet||34.010||2.972||158.777|
Truex continued his fast pace in the second round, easily going to the top of the speed chart with an average lap of 174.820 mph.
Once again, he bested fellow Toyota driver Kyle Busch (174.656 mph) to keep the top spot.
Hamlin was third-fastest, Kenseth fourth and Harvick completed the top-five.
Also advancing to the final round were Stenhouse, Larson, Kurt Busch, Blaney, Suarez, Bayne and Keselowski.
All four Cup title contenders advanced to the final, five-minute session.
Among those who failed to advance to the final round were Jamie McMurray, Erik Jones, Clint Bowyer, Chase Elliott and Jimmie Johnson.
“A little bit unfortunate not to make it to the next round,” McMurray said. “Overall, it wasn’t a horrible day. Still pretty happy with our car.”
Johnson, among the last drivers to make a lap in Round 2, got loose off Turn 4 which cost him some speed. “This track is a lot of fun to race on, a lot of different lanes,” he said.
Truex set a blistering pace in the first 20-minute round of knockout qualifying, racing to the top spot with an average lap speed of 175.650 mph – almost a mile-an-hour faster than Kyle Busch (174.735 mph).
Hamlin was third-fastest, Harvick fourth and Stenhouse completed the top-five.
All four Cup series title contenders ended up ninth or faster in the first round.
Several cars failed to clear pre-qualifying inspection by the time the first round began, including last season’s champion and race winner, Johnson.
Johnson eventually made it out on the track – he was the last driver to attempt a speed – and ended up 18th quick in the first round.
Among the drivers who failed to advance to Round 2 were Danica Patrick, A.J. Allmendinger, Kasey Kahne, Chris Buescher and Ty Dillon, who earned his career-best finish last weekend at Phoenix.
“We’ll go back to the drawing board and work on it tomorrow,” Allmendinger said.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. made a qualifying attempt (15th in Round 1) but because his No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports team had to change engines during practice earlier Friday, he will have to start Sunday’s race from the rear of the field.
“The car’s a little bit tight in the center. I feel good about the speed in the car, but we just have to get it fixed up,” said Earnhardt, whose team elected not to participate in Round since they have to start in the back and wanted to save their tires.
He’ll officially start Sunday’s race in 24th.