By the slimmest of margins, Denny Hamlin beat a car he owns for the Busch Light pole position in Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
In the final round of time trials of Saturday evening, Hamlin ran a lower line through Turns 3 and 4 than did his fellow competitors, and that paid off with a blistering lap of 29.399 seconds (183.680 mph)—just .003 seconds faster than that of Kurt Busch (183.661 mph) who drives the No. 45 23XI Toyota co-owned by Hamlin and NBA legend Michael Jordan.
Hamlin’s Joe Gibbs Racing teammate, Christopher Bell, qualified third at 183.655 mph (just .001 seconds slower than Busch), and teammate Kyle Busch followed at 183.505 mph, as Toyota drivers swept the top four grid positions in NASCAR Cup Series qualifying for the first time since the 2017 season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
“I had reps down there, so I kind of knew what I needed for my car,” Hamlin said of the line he ran. “I just thought—forward thinking—that this track was going to get a little better (in terms of grip), and certainly we would want to cut the most distance we could off, if the track continued to grip up.”
Hamlin has never won a Cup race at Charlotte. If he does so on Sunday, he’ll become the second active driver to win all three of NASCAR’s Crown Jewel races—the Daytona 500 (which he has won three times), the Southern 500 and the Coca-Cola 600. Kevin Harvick is the only active driver to accomplish that feat.
“I’ve had such fast cars here and such crazy luck that I’ve had here over the years,” Hamlin said. “Mistakes that I’ve made that kept us from winning. I just really want to get this one, especially since I’ve been a Coke partner for all 18 years or whatever of my career.”
William Byron qualified fifth in the fastest Chevrolet, with Austin Cindric following in sixth in the quickest Ford. Kurt Busch’s 23XI teammate, Bubba Wallace claimed the seventh spot on the grid, followed by Tyler Reddick, Alex Bowman and Michael McDowell.
Defending race winner Kyle Larson smacked the outside wall in Saturday’s practice and did not make a qualifying run, as his team attempted to repair the No. 5 Chevrolet. Larson will start from the rear on Sunday.
Brad Keselowski spun off Turn 4 in the first-round qualifying lap and likewise will take the green flag from the back of the pack.
TIL NEXT TIME, I AM STILL WORKING ON MY REDNECK!