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Hamlin captures Bristol pole

March 14th, 2014 7:20 pm by Jeff Birchfield

Hamlin captures Bristol pole

BRISTOL — NASCAR’s new knockout qualifying at Bristol Motor Speedway didn’t produce the mayhem predicted on Friday afternoon.

It also didn’t hurt Denny Hamlin’s overall speed. He drove the No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota to a lap of 14.610 seconds (129.991 mph) breaking a new track record in qualifying for Sunday’s Food City 500.

The lap speed broke Kyle Busch’s year-old record of 129.535 mph. It was Hamlin’s second straight pole position at Bristol and his 18th overall in the Sprint Cup Series.

“It’s always good to set a track record,” Hamlin said. “I remember watching Ryan Newman get in the 14-second range back in the day and I was amazed. Obviously, now we’re setting the bar. We’re going to continue to set track records with the downforce we have now unless there are rule changes.”

None of the predicted mayhem of drivers pulling out in front of each other ruin a competitor’s lap happened. The pole-sitter and a 2012 August race winner at Bristol was able to turn a fast lap with no traffic in front of him.

“It’s fast — it’s faster than I ever imagined going around this track,” Hamlin said. “Every new rule change we have just makes these cars go a little bit faster.We were pretty strategic in how we executed that qualifying session.”

Brad Keselowski, winner of last Sunday’s race at Las Vegas, qualified second with his lap of 14.764 (129.965) also breaking Busch’s track record. It was the third straight week the Team Penske Ford driver earned a top row starting spot.

“Qualifying up front is great, but more important, having a strong pit selection is a bigger part of the equation,” Keselowski said. “I’m happy to be in this spot, proud of the effort.”

Keselowski laughed when asked if the Penske organization had figured out some formula with the new qualifying format. 

“Black magic, black magic,” Keselowski joked. “I don’t think there is any big secret. When you’re fast, you’re fast. There isn’t any trickery to it.”

Regardless, Team Penske has been successful under the new qualifying rules. 

Joey Logano, Keselowski’s teammate, was fourth fastest, just one week after he earned the pole position at Las Vegas.

Matt Kenseth, driving the No. 20 Gibbs Toyota, was third overall, turning a lap of 14.866 seconds (129.073) around the .533-mile oval.

“We’re working on the strategy,” Kenseth said. “It worked out well for us. It was the first time I’ve seen a second round. We snuck in there and got a good lap. We’ve got a good pit stall so we will work on our race set-up for Sunday.”

Marcos Ambrose qualified fifth in a Ford, followed by a pair of five-time Bristol winners, Jeff Gordon in a Chevrolet and Kyle Busch in a Toyota.

The rest of the top 10 consisted of Greg Biffle in a Ford, Ryan Newman in a Chevrolet and Kasey Kahne in a Chevrolet.

Six-time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson in a Chevrolet and Carl Edwards in a Ford were the other drivers to advance to the second round of qualifying.

Other notables included two-time Daytona 500 champion Dale Earnhardt Jr. who qualified 14th, Danica Patrick in 36th and three-time NASCAR champion Tony Stewart in 37th.

Sunday’s race is scheduled to begin at 1 p.m.

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