Denny Hamlin set sail atop the leaderboard in Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series qualifying Friday night, landing the Coors Light Pole Award at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
Hamlin will guide the Joe Gibbs Racing No. 11 Toyota from the first starting position for Sunday’s Bank of America 500 (1 p.m. ET, NBC, PRN, SiriusXM), the opening event in the Playoffs’ Round of 12. He turned a fast lap of 191.598 mph on the 1.5-mile track in the final round of knockout qualifying.
Hamlin’s first pole of the season was his second at Charlotte and the 25th of his Monster Energy Series career.
“It’s good, you always like to keep streaks alive,” said Hamlin, who now has at least one pole in the last six seasons and 12 of the 13 in his career. “Hadn’t had a pole this year and have had one every other year, but it’s good. We’ve been so close and we’ve made so many final rounds, been in the top five, but not as fast as our teammates. Today we adjusted on it, got it a little better each round and had some goodwill.”
Teammate Matt Kenseth will start second Sunday in the JGR No. 20 Toyota after posting a 191.489 mph lap. Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch and Clint Bowyer completed the top five in time trials for the fourth of 10 postseason races for NASCAR’s premier series.
The opening 20-minute session included some drama, with a logjam in pre-qualifying inspection forcing several teams to hustle their cars to the starting grid. The Joe Gibbs Racing No. 18 Toyota of Kyle Busch and the Hendrick Motorsports No. 88 Chevrolet of Dale Earnhardt Jr. were among the final teams to exit the garage to make their qualifying passes.
Once Earnhardt took to the track for the final qualifying session of his full-time career, his lap came at the expense of his teammate Jimmie Johnson, the defending race winner. Johnson, a seven-time series champ, was bumped to the 25th starting spot for Sunday’s 500-miler, just missing the 24-driver cut line by a margin of .018 seconds.
“Multiple trips through inspection doesn’t help by any stretch,” Johnson told NBC Sports. “We just missed it. So, another frustrating Friday unfortunately. Back tomorrow and we’ll have to pass a bunch of cars Sunday. It sucks getting behind and starting the weekend behind, but it is what it is and we’ll have to go to work on Sunday.”
Erik Jones’ Furniture Row Racing No. 77 Toyota did not make it through the inspection line in time and did not post a qualifying speed. The Sunoco Rookie of the Year candidate will start at the rear of the 40-car field, along with BK Racing teammates Corey LaJoie and Brett Moffitt, who also did not turn a qualifying lap.
Jones’ Furniture Row teammate, Martin Truex Jr., endured a milder setback in the second segment of qualifying, failing to make the 12-driver cut for the final round. Truex, a five-time winner this year and the leader in accumulated playoff points, will start 17th Sunday.
Two 50-minute practice sessions for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series are scheduled Saturday (11 a.m. ET, 1:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN).