With a blistering lap at 202.794 mph (35.504 seconds) on Friday, Denny Hamlin won his second straight pole position in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series.
This time, he left no doubt as to who had the fastest car. Hamlin’s No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota was fastest in opening practice—and fastest in all three rounds of knockout qualifying at Michigan International Speedway.
For the second straight week, Hamlin and JGR teammate Kyle Busch (202.731 mph) will start 1-2. Hamlin edged Busch by .011 seconds to earn his second Busch Pole Award of the season, his first at Michigan and the 28th of his career.
A victory from the pole would continue Hamlin’s streak of at least one victory per year, starting with his 2006 rookie season.
“It is a very important streak,” Hamlin asserted. “I think about it… I thought it was all over in 2013, the year that I broke my back (in a wreck at Auto Club Speedway), and we won in the final race of the season to keep the streak alive.
“You look back at the really great drivers of NASCAR, and they had long streaks, 10 years and above, of winning in a row, and you want to keep that going for sure. It’s important.”
Busch was on pace for the pole before losing time through Turns 3 and 4 in the money round.
“I thought 3 and 4 went OK,” Busch said. “Certainly, I don’t think it was my best time through there. The first couple of runs, we’d been fighting ‘loose,’ so you kind of drive a little differently to be ready for the loose situation, and then on the final run, we were tight.
“You guard your entry or guard your center or whatever you do for the loose, and that doesn’t happen, and you’re tight, and then you’re too tight because you guarded for the loose. Just ever so slightly just missed it, I guess. Overall, I didn’t think we were going to qualify there, so we’re certainly pleased with that.
“Denny’s been fast so far from unload, so good for them to capitalize on that.”
Kevin Harvick, like Busch a six-time winner this season, qualified third at 202.100 mph. Erik Jones was fourth at 201.805 mph, putting three Gibbs Toyotas in the top four on the grid.
The Richard Childress Racing duo of 2018 Daytona 500 winner Austin Dillon and Ryan Newman will start from the third row after qualifying fifth and sixth, respectively. Martin Truex Jr., Ryan Blaney, Joey Logano and Alex Bowman completed the top 10.
The No. 19 Toyota of Daniel Suarez, who had posted the third fastest lap in opening practice, twitched out of control in Turn 2 in the opening round and tapped the outside wall. Suarez posted no time for the session and will start from the back of the field.
“I just got loose,” said Suarez, who had asked for adjustment after his car felt slightly tight in practice. “We just crossed the line. Once we got in the gray (out of the preferred groove), it was like being on ice.”
Suarez was optimistic his team could fix the cosmetic damage and get it ready for Saturday’s two practice sessions and Sunday’s race.
“I think we’ll see the 19 passing a lot of cars on Sunday,” Suarez said.
TIL NEXT TIME, I AM STILL WORKING ON MY REDNECK!