BRISTOL — Denny Hamlin won the pole position for the IRWIN Tools Night Race at Bristol Motor Speedway after teammate Kyle Busch spun twice during qualifying.
Hamlin, the defending race champion, turned the .533-mile oval with a lap of 14.878 seconds (128.969 mph) in his Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota to earn his first ever Bristol pole and his fourth pole of the season.
“You saw a lot of guys slipping over the edge in qualifying so it was a nerve-racking kind of lap,” Hamlin said. “You know you have to drive it to a certain speed and you hope you have the cushion to lean on.”
Busch, who had the fastest speed in practice, spun out coming off turn 4 coming to the white flag. He wheeled his No. 18 Toyota back around to a attempt on a second lap.
He again lost control as the back of his car tagged the wall coming off turn 2 and he slid to a stop. He then aborted the attempt and had to use a provisional spot to get into the race.
Busch’s misfortune gave Hamlin a bright spot in what has been a miserable season. Hamlin missed four races earlier in the year after a hard crash at California, and he comes into tonight’s race 25th in the point standings.
It was Hamlin’s 16th career pole, but his first at Bristol in 16 starts. He said a key was to realize how unique the high-banked short track is.
“This isn’t like a typical race track,” he said. “Here on concrete when that rubber gets built up on the high line, it provides more grip up there. The line is right up against the wall and you have to run there. It was an advantage for us to go later in qualifying.”
Kurt Busch drove his No. 78 Chevrolet to the outside pole with a lap of 14.901 seconds (128.770). It was his seventh front-row start of the season, but came after he hit the outside wall in practice.
“I pancaked the right side where I had to quit practice for the last half-hour and we had to fix the car,” he said. “The hood seams and the deck-lid seams were sealed, but the whole right side was pancaked. You’re right on that edge.”
Not knowing how the car would react, Busch didn’t test the limits on the first qualifying lap. He waited to “go for it” the second time around.
“I had to go 95 percent, not the full 100 percent on the first lap,” he said. “I had to feel the car, trust the car and trust the track. The second lap, I was like, ‘I’ll just go 100 percent.’ It was a very eventful day.”
Carl Edwards was third fastest, his Roush-Fenway Racing Ford touring the high-banked oval at 14.910 seconds (128.692).
“That was a very good lap for us because we were not that fast in practice,” Edwards said. “The guys (on the crew) worked hard and made good adjustments. It felt like a very good lap to me. I was disappointed to see those guys outqualify us, but I was still happy with the lap.”
Brian Vickers and Matt Kenseth in Toyotas rounded out the top five.
Other notables included defending series champion Brad Keselowski 12th, five-time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson13th and Dale Earnhardt Jr. 19th.
Jeff Gordon qualified 32nd after being third fastest during both practice sessions.
Danica Patrick was the fastest rookie with her lap of 15.158 seconds (126.587) putting her in the 22nd starting spot.