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Hamlin gives Toyota first Cup Series pole of season

By Jeff Birchfield • Aug 16, 2019 at 11:26 PM

BRISTOL, Tenn. — Denny Hamlin continued his hot streak Friday when he won the pole in Pinty’s qualifying for the Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race at Bristol Motor Speedway.

Hamlin’s No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota toured the .533-mile oval in 14.848 seconds at 129.230 mph. He earned his fourth pole at BMS — and 31st of his career — but surprisingly the first of the season for him or any Toyota driver.

“I knew we had a shot. The second practice especially, our car had good speed,” Hamlin said. “I was confident as long as the crew chief did his job and I did my job we would have a chance.

See Dakota Hamilton’s photos from Friday’s qualifying

“We’ve had race-winning speed all year long. It’s just qualifying hasn’t been our focus. We knew the short tracks is where we could get that done.”

Kyle Larson was second to Hamlin with a lap of 14.874 seconds (129.004 mph) in the No. 42 Ganassi Racing Chevrolet. Like Hamlin, he had a late qualifying run as shadows covered the backstretch of the track.

“I was pretty happy with my lap. I knew Denny had the best shot of beating us,” Larson said. “I felt like I got everything I could out of the car, but I was more concerned being on the tight side than the free side at Bristol. Denny was just a hair faster, but we’ll take it.”

Martin Truex Jr., a teammate of Hamlin’s in the No. 19 Toyota, was third at 14.875 (128.995). Defending race winner Kurt Busch took fourth and Aric Almirola completed the top five.

Chase Elliott, driving the No. 9 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet, briefly led qualifying before winding up sixth. He qualified early before shade covered much of the track.

“Typically when the sun goes down, the grip gets better as the track cools off,” Elliott said. “On the visual side of things, it was fine.”

Matt DiBenedetto posted the fastest speed in practice in the No. 95 Toyota but, with an early draw, qualified seventh. Kevin Harvick, Erik Jones and Alex Bowman filled out the top 10.

A couple of former Bristol winners had slow qualifying efforts. Seven-time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson, a two-time winner of the Food City 500, qualified 30th, nearly a half-second off Hamlin’s pace.

Kyle Busch, who leads all active drivers with eight Bristol victories, qualified one spot behind Johnson. Kyle Busch was the first driver to make a qualifying attempt, which Larson believed contributed to the slower speed.

“Obviously, Kyle Busch qualifying as bad as he did in 31st, it shows the draw means a lot,” Larson said. “We were lucky that we were able to draw late.”

Still, Larson didn’t have the speed to hold off the red-hot Hamlin, who entered the weekend coming off four straight top-three finishes, ranging on tracks as diverse as the Watkins Glen road course, the flat 2.5-mile Pocono track and Michigan’s banked 2-mile speedway.

Bristol’s high-banked short track is a different animal, but he’s off to a great start.

“Every track we go to, it’s the same and I’m driving to the best of my ability and getting every ounce of speed out of the car I can,” Hamlin said. “I don’t know if anything in particular happened, but everything is just working right now.”

Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race Lineup

After Friday qualifying; race Saturday (7:30 p.m., NBC Sports)

1. (11) Denny Hamlin, Toyota, 129.230 mph.

2. (42) Kyle Larson, Chevrolet, 129.004.

3. (19) Martin Truex Jr, Toyota, 128.995.

4. (1) Kurt Busch, Chevrolet, 128.813.

5. (10) Aric Almirola, Ford, 128.770.

6. (9) Chase Elliott, Chevrolet, 128.580.

7. (95) Matt DiBenedetto, Toyota, 128.460.

8. (4) Kevin Harvick, Ford, 128.434.

9. (20) Erik Jones, Toyota, 128.391.

10. (88) Alex Bowman, Chevrolet, 128.236.

11. (22) Joey Logano, Ford, 128.125.

12. (12) Ryan Blaney, Ford, 128.082.

13. (2) Brad Keselowski, Ford, 127.946.

14. (6) Ryan Newman, Ford, 127.903.

15. (17) Ricky Stenhouse Jr, Ford, 127.682.

16. (38) David Ragan, Ford, 127.470.

17. (8) Daniel Hemric, Chevrolet, 127.208.

18. (41) Daniel Suarez, Ford, 127.174.

19. (3) Austin Dillon, Chevrolet, 126.938.

20. (14) Clint Bowyer, Ford, 126.829.

21. (24) William Byron, Chevrolet, 126.520.

22. (43) Bubba Wallace, Chevrolet, 126.337.

23. (47) Ryan Preece, Chevrolet, 126.303.

24. (13) Ty Dillon, Chevrolet, 126.030.

25. (21) Paul Menard, Ford, 125.881.

26. (32) Corey Lajoie, Ford, 125.633.

27. (36) Matt Tifft, Ford, 125.617.

28. (34) Michael McDowell, Ford, 125.322.

29. (37) Chris Buescher, Chevrolet, 125.297.

30. (48) Jimmie Johnson, Chevrolet, 125.158.

31. (18) Kyle Busch, Toyota, 125.085.

32. (00) Landon Cassill, Chevrolet, 124.873.

33. (51) BJ McLeod, Chevrolet, 124.050.

34. (27) Quin Houff, Chevrolet, 123.166.

35. (53) Josh Bilicki, Chevrolet, 122.756.

36. (54) JJ Yeley, Ford, 121.968.

37. (77) Reed Sorenson, Chevrolet, 121.960.

38. (52) Kyle Weatherman, Chevrolet, 121.551.

39. (15) Ross Chastain, Chevrolet, 121.136.