Hamlin's Track Record Earns Food City 500 Pole During Ford Fan Friday
Denny Hamlin had a strategy with NASCAR's new knockout qualifying procedure at Bristol Motor Speedway and made it pay off - in a big way.
Hamlin turned just two laps but made them count, posting a speed of 129.991 mph (14.701 seconds) breaking the track record and earning the pole for Sunday's Food City 500 capping a great Ford Fan Friday at BMS.
"That was faster than I ever remember going around this track," Hamlin said, catching his breath after securing the top spot for Sunday's field, the fifth at Bristol for Joe Gibbs Racing. "We were pretty strategic in how we executed this. … I am glad we didn't have to go back out. I don't know that we would have (made the cut)."
Hamlin was the third different pole winner in three races with the modified qualifying procedures implemented by NASCAR this season. Penske Ford driver Brad Keselowski, the fastest qualifier at Phoenix two weeks ago, just missed doing it again, also breaking the existing track record but coming up short to Hamlin. His speed of 129.965 mph (14.764 second) puts him in the outside of the front row.
Fans were curious as to how the new qualifying procedure -- giving all drivers in the field a chance to take to the track at any time during the initial 30-minute period -- would develop at the Last Great Colosseum. It did not take long for them to find out as 30 drivers posted times in the first eight minutes of the session.
By the 13-minute mark, 43 drivers had hit the track and all 45 in the garage had posted speeds with less than 20 minutes gone.
At the end of the 30-minute session, teams were given a 10-minute break to discuss strategy and the track opened again for the fastest 12 from the first session.
Five-time Bristol winner Kurt Busch was the first driver not to transfer to the second session.
"When you are separating things by hundredths and thousandths of a second, that's (tough)," Busch said.
NASCAR Sprint Cup point leader Dale Earnhardt, Jr., was 14th.
"The first run was the one needed to get it done," said Earnhardt. "The Nationwide practice in between (Cup practice and qualifying) changed the track some but the track tightened up too. I hate we missed the top 12 but we worked all day to make the car better. … I love running here. I fell in love with this place coming here as a kid."
Despite his record-breaking qualifying effort, Hamlin said the best may be yet to come for Sunday's Food City 500.
"I was much more excited about it in race trim (in practice) than qualifying trim," Hamlin said.
Tickets for Sunday's Food City 500 start at just $70 and weekend packages for all three races are available for as low as $89. Fans may call (855) 580-5525 or visit BristolTix.com to experience this spring's battle on the high banks of the Last Great Colosseum.