Denny Hamlin will start on pole position for this weekend’s Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Bank of America 500 at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Hamlin took his #11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota Camry to the top of the time-sheets in the third and final session of qualifying to take his first pole position of 2017.
Prior to the final session, the speed looked to be with Stewart-Haas Racing‘s Ford Fusions, with both Kevin Harvick and Clint Bowyer ending the first two rounds in first and second on both occasions. However, neither could deny Denny of the top spot in the final round. What’s more, Hamlin’s team-mate Matt Kenseth also managed to vault up to the front row after lapping within just two-hundredths of a second of the pole time.
Track position is important in most NASCAR Cup Series races, but Charlotte Motor Speedway is one of the more important ones. With that in mind, Hamlin taking his first pole position of the year couldn’t have come at a more opportune time:
“This is a track position type race track. All of them are, but any mile and half you go to you want to have the number one pit stall, you want to be out in clean air,” said Hamlin post-qualifying, “Good thing with our FedEx Toyota we had a good, fast car and put it on the top.
“The good part about it with our cars it seemed like we got just a tiny bit faster each and every round when a lot of guys started backing up and that was the key for us to get the pole.”
After their aforementioned great pace in the first rounds of qualifying, the Stewart-Haas Ford’s of Harvick and Bowyer would fade to third and fifth respectively. Bowyer may have had the pace to take his first pole position in ten years – his last coming in the 2007 Sylvania 300 at New Hampshire – but he couldn’t get his #14 Ford Fusion down to the apex of turns three and four on his final run.
Kyle Busch split the two Stewart-Haas drivers to take fourth place. It was a herculean effort for #18 team after Kyle smacked the wall on the exit of turn four during practice earlier in the day. The team originally planned to go to a backup car, but instead, they managed to fix the damage on the original car. It was then a close call for Busch to pass pre-qualifying inspection, but they managed to do so with just a few minutes left on the clock. To come back from the odds being stacked against them to take fourth could be crucial for Kyle’s race on Sunday.
Brad Keselowski will line up sixth in his #2 Team Penske Ford Fusion, with Chase Elliott just behind in seventh in the Hendrick Motorsports #24 Chevrolet. Kurt Busch had a strong qualifying in the #41 Stewart-Haas Ford, but sadly it comes a week too late having been eliminated from the playoffs after last weekend’s race at Dover. The same story goes for Kasey Kahne in the #5 HMS Chevrolet, who followed just behind Kurt to take ninth place.
Kyle Larson will line up ninth in the #42 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet ahead of Ryan Newman‘s #31 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet, with Danica Patrick completing the top twelve that made it to the final session of qualifying in the #10 for Stewart-Haas Racing. Patrick’s surprise inclusion in the final round meant that Stewart-Haas was the only team to get their entire squad into the top twelve shoot-out.
Five playoff drivers failed to make it all the way in qualifying. Ryan Blaney put his #21 Wood Brothers Racing Ford Fusion in the fifteenth position, with championship leader Martin Truex Jr following not far behind in seventeenth. Truex’s #78 Furniture Row Racing Toyota looked off the pace throughout qualifying, with the end result being his worst qualifying performance since the season-opening Daytona 500 back in February where he qualified thirty-fifth.
Jamie McMurray and Ricky Stenhouse Jr may have managed to scrape through to this round of the playoffs, but they both know they need to up their game if they want to get any further. The pair qualified in eighteenth and twenty-second respectively; meaning that they’ll have to gain some positions on Sunday if they want to get this round off to a good start.
The final playoff driver in the field failed to make it out of the first session of qualifying. What’s even more shocking is that that driver is Jimmie Johnson in the #48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet. Johnson enters the weekend as the active driver with the most wins at Charlotte, but a combination of car setup issues and a number of failed attempts at passing pre-qualifying inspection meant that Jimmie was unable to break into the top twenty-four in the first session. He will line up in twenty-fifth, but he managed to win this race a year ago on a late-race restart; so he could manage to come through from the mid-pack to be a contender later on.
Two practice sessions for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series field will take place on Saturday, followed by the 2017 Bank of America 500 on Sunday afternoon.
Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series – 2017 Bank of America 500 – Qualifying top twelve:
[table id=2569 /]
(P) = Playoff contender