LONG POND, Pa. (AP) — Denny Hamlin won the pole the first time he ever raced at Pocono Raceway. Eight years later, Hamlin still had the speed in the No. 11 Toyota to take the top spot at the triangle track.
Hamlin turned a track record-lap of 181.415 mph Friday to win the NASCAR Sprint Cup pole, a throwback to the times he dominated qualifying at one of his best tracks.
Hamlin is a four-time winner at Pocono, matching his Martinsville mark for most career wins at a track. He swept two Pocono races on its former rugged surface from the pole in 2006. He also won races on the 2 1/2-mile track in 2009 and 2010.
“I hope this track has aged a little bit,” he said, “because when it was old and worn out was when I was really good at the track.”
With blistering speeds, Hamlin zipped his way to his second track record and pole of the season after topping the field at Bristol. Hamlin has 19 poles in 304 career Cup starts.
Hamlin hasn’t had much success with Joe Gibbs Racing at Pocono since 2010, finishing in the top 10 onlt twice and crashing out twice – including a 43rd-place run last August.
“We haven’t been that strong here since the repave,” he said. “It’s just a handful of things that make you off here and there. These tracks are almost like superspeedways now in the sense that you’ve got to have the fastest car in the right position to win them. Back when I was winning in `06 on the old track, you could make up tons of position. That would never happen today because the cars are running so fast and so equal.”
Kurt Busch starts second for a needed lift for his Stewart-Haas Racing team. Busch has otherwise struggled outside of the one win that all but locked him into the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship.
“We came here with a new approach to try to get our front ends to settle into the track a little better,” Busch said. “I was really surprised that we had the speed for the pole today in our first attempt to try something a little different. It’s great to cash in.”
Brad Keselowski, Kevin Harvick and Jeff Gordon completed the top five.
Coming off wins in the Coca-Cola 600 and at Dover, Jimmie Johnson will start 20th in his bid for a third straight victory.
“I just got too greedy down in two and lost the nose in the corner exit,” Johnson said. “I feel bad for my guys, but this one’s on me.”
Keselowski continued his run of qualifying success. Last week’s pole winner at Dover, Keselowski has started third or better in the No. 2 Ford a whopping 10 times in 13 races this season.
“I’m not sure why, but I’m not going to complain about it either,” he said. “It does seem qualifying day has been the highlight of our week, for sure.”