NASCAR CUP SERIES: Denny Hamlin captures pole at Pocono

  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
·5 min read
In this article:
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

Jul. 24—LONG POND — New car at Pocono Raceway. Same old Denny Hamlin.

NASCAR's Next Gen car debuted Saturday at the

2.5-mile triangular track and the driver of the No. 11 Toyota found the way to get it around there faster than anybody else. He captured the pole for Sunday's M&M's Fan Appreciation 400 at 169.991 mph.

It is Hamlin's third pole of the season and 36th of his career, which ties him for 18th place in NASCAR Cup Series history with Rusty Wallace and Rex White.

"A lot of legends there," Hamlin said.

Four of his career poles have come at Pocono. He also is tied with Jeff Gordon for most wins at the track (6) and has 14 top-five and 21 top-10 finishes in 32 starts here.

"Every time I come here, there's always something different," Hamlin said. "Different tire, different car, different patch that's paved. Resin or don't have resin. There's a lot of different things every time we come here that's a challenge. Having just 20 minutes of practice, you have to kind of lean on some past experience of what you need to get out of your car to be fast here. Obviously, it worked for this car today."

During practice, Hamlin was 11th at 166.383 mph. He then had the fastest speed of his qualifying group at 169.348 mph to advance to the final round.

Hamlin admitted he wasn't very confident his final-round lap was good enough for the pole.

"Especially off Turn 2. I got pretty tight there and I was thinking it probably wasn't a pole-winning lap knowing that I had to run a 0 to do it. But I did get off Turn 3 really well. I thought that maybe that gave me a shot. It certainly didn't feel as good as the first one, because usually when you have to push your car to go faster it's not going to feel as good."

Kyle Busch qualified second at 169.498 mph. Chase Elliott was third at 169.364 mph. Kyle Larson was fourth at 169.014 mph and Chris Buescher was fifth at 168.922 mph.

Rounding out the top 10 were Ryan Blaney, Bubba Wallace, Martin Truex Jr., Daniel Suarez and Kurt Busch.

However, Kurt Busch will have to go to a backup car and start at the rear of the field. During his qualifying lap in the final round, he spun his No. 45 Toyota in Turn 3 and hit the wall.

It was the third incident in Turn 3. During practice, William Byron and Ross Chastain both spun their cars, but were able to keep them off the wall.

Seeing his 23XI Racing teammate crash right before he was about to make his final qualifying attempt gave Hamlin some cause for concern.

"It got in my head a little bit when Kurt wrecked," Hamlin said. "It was just natural instinct when I went through there on my get-up-to-speed lap, thinking how aggressive I could get here knowing I could spin out. It's something you don't see too terribly often. So it just puts a little something in your mind to make you squeeze the gas a little easier versus going right at it.

"Where you hit the corner makes a big difference as well. There's a seam right in the middle of the race track that if you get the right sides (tires) on it, it will get your car pretty loose. It's just something you have to be aware of."

Still, having all three 23XI Racing cars — Hamlin, Kurt Busch, Wallace — make the final round made Hamlin, the co-team owner, very happy.

"The whole team, we've had very good, very very fast cars over the last couple of months," Hamlin said. "Bubba in particular. Seeing him put together a whole race last week (at New Hampshire). To start up front, stay up front, get mixed to the middle, then drive back to the front is all a good sign and what we want to see out of him."

Now what remains to be seen is how the Next Gen car will perform at Pocono during the race. Hamlin feels it will be a track position race.

"We say it almost every week," Hamlin said. "But when I got close to someone in practice, it changed the balance of my car dramatically. I think the car that's leading will be significantly faster than anyone else in the field just because of the better air he is going to have. So you want to be first. Not second. Third is worse than that and fourth is worse than that and it just keeps getting worse.

"This track in particular has always been one where the leader has a big distinct advantage over the field. But I think in this car in particular strives and runs well at tracks where it's a multi-lane race track. Here, it's kind of two grooves. So there's not a lot of room on the track for the air to escape. So the further you are up front, the faster your car is going to run. Doesn't matter what the balance is."

During post-qualifying inspection, NASCAR assessed an L1 penalty to the Petty GMS Racing cars of No. 42 Ty Dillon and No. 43 Erik Jones for violating Section 14.6.5.E of the rule book regarding Rocker Box Assemblies.

Both teams were docked 35 driver and owner points. Both teams' crew chiefs were ejected for the weekend.

Sunday's M&M's Fan Appreciation 400 is scheduled to get the green flag at 3 p.m.

Contact the writer:

swalsh@timesshamrock.com;

570-348-9100, ext. 5109;

@swalshTT on Twitter