Another track record fell in NASCAR Sprint Cup Series qualifying Denny Hamlin adding another top time to a 2014’s roll of honour as he took pole position for the Pocono 400 at the Pennsylvania track.
The Joe Gibbs Racing driver lapped Pocono Raceway’s unique ‘Tricky Triangle’ layout in 49.610 seconds, an average speed of 181.415mph, bettering Jimmie Johnson’s ten month old record by two tenths of a second.
Such was the speed of the final of three segments of qualifying that the top four all recorded laps that would have beaten the old marker, though that had already fallen to Kurt Busch when he led the top dozen drivers through from the second part of the session into what effectively became a one lap shootout for pole position.
Having been second fastest in the first part of qualifying – behind only Michael Waltrip Racing’s Brian Vickers – Busch started the final part of the session as one of the favourites to battle for pole position but in the end lost out to Hamlin by the miniscule margin of two-thousandths as the Toyota driver scored his second pole of the season and his third pole at Pocono. Ominously for the rest of the pack his previous two pole came during his rookie 2006 season when he won both Pocono races.
Brad Keselowski and Kevin Harvick will start from the second row with Jeff Gordon the first man outside of the old track record in fifth and Kyle Busch sixth.
Early pacesetter Vickers will start ninth.
Jimmie Johnson, winner of the last two Sprint Cup races failed to progress through to the final part of qualifying and so will start from only 20th. Both Matt Kenseth and Kasey Kahne, who won Pocono’s August race last season were unable to even make it through to second part of qualifying, ending the opening session just outside the top 24 in 25th and 26th respectively.
The opening segment of the session was briefly interrupted by a red flag after Dave Blaney spun his Ford. Though he failed to complete a lap with only 43 drivers entered for Sunday’s race Blaney will line up at the rear of the field.