Denny Hamlin ended Penske’s run of pole positions in a close-fought NASCAR Sprint Cup qualifying session at Bristol Motor Speedway.
Penske’s Fords had previously swept the front row for both of the first two events of NASCAR’s new knockout qualifying format at Phoenix and Las Vegas. It looked like a similar result was on the cards as Joey Logano topped the first part of qualifying, then he and teammate Brad Keselowski produced dead-level 14.904-second laps to lead the pole shootout early on.
Logano had been classified second at that point as Keselowski had set his time first, but he improved by 0.01sec next time around to make provisional pole his own. Hamlin, however, had only done one flying lap in part one of qualifying so had fresher tires than anyone else on his Joe Gibbs Toyota. He duly blasted out a 14.761sec lap to depose Logano.
Hamlin’s teammate Matt Kenseth – one of many drivers to crash in practice – briefly made it a JGR one-two before Keselowski split them with a lap just 0.003sec shy of the poleman. That was the last shot any of the front-runners had, leaving Hamlin on pole ahead of Keselowski, Kenseth and Logano.
Marcos Ambrose hung back in the pits until the final moments of the pole session, then put his Richard Petty Ford fifth, sharing row three with Jeff Gordon.
Kurt Busch had been fastest in practice, but was denied the final place in pole qualifyng by Kenseth, so will start 13th. That still made Busch the best of the Stewart-Haas pack. Phoenix winner Kevin Harvick was only 27th, with Danica Patrick (who crashed her primary car just three minutes into morning practice, and took Parker Kligerman with her) down in 36th and Tony Stewart 38th.
Two of this year’s three winners so far failed to make the pole session. Dale Earnhardt Jr. was the sole Hendrick man to miss the cut in 14th.
Pos Driver Team/Car Time Gap 1. Denny Hamlin Joe Gibbs Toyota 14.761s 2. Brad Keselowski Penske Ford 14.764s +0.003s 3. Matt Kenseth Joe Gibbs Toyota 14.866s +0.105s 4. Joey Logano Penske Ford 14.894s +0.133s 5. Marcos Ambrose Petty Ford 14.906s +0.145s 6. Jeff Gordon Hendrick Chevrolet 14.962s +0.201s 7. Kyle Busch Joe Gibbs Toyota 14.972s +0.211s 8. Greg Biffle Roush Fenway Ford 14.997s +0.236s 9. Ryan Newman Childress Chevrolet 15.014s +0.253s 10. Kasey Kahne Hendrick Chevrolet 15.027s +0.266s 11. Jimmie Johnson Hendrick Chevrolet 15.063s +0.302s 12. Carl Edwards Roush Fenway Ford 15.100s +0.339s 13. Kurt Busch Stewart-Haas Chevrolet 14.953s Q1 14. Dale Earnhardt Jr Hendrick Chevrolet 14.959s Q1 15. Clint Bowyer Waltrip Toyota 14.962s Q1 16. David Gilliland Front Row Ford 14.963s Q1 17. Jamie McMurray Ganassi Chevrolet 14.971s Q1 18. Cole Whitt Swan Toyota 14.999s Q1 19. David Ragan Front Row Ford 15.002s Q1 20. Kyle Larson Ganassi Chevrolet 15.015s Q1 21. Ricky Stenhouse Jr Roush Fenway Ford 15.028s Q1 22. AJ Allmendinger JTG Daugherty Chevrolet 15.032s Q1 23. Michael McDowell Leavine Ford 15.037s Q1 24. Aric Almirola Petty Ford 15.037s Q1 25. Casey Mears Germain Chevrolet 15.038s Q1 26. Austin Dillon Childress Chevrolet 15.046s Q1 27. Kevin Harvick Stewart-Haas Chevrolet 15.056s Q1 28. Paul Menard Childress Chevrolet 15.057s Q1 29. Martin Truex Jr Furniture Row Chevrolet 15.067s Q1 30. Justin Allgaier HScott Chevrolet 15.068s Q1 31. Landon Cassill Hillman Chevrolet 15.087s Q1 32. Josh Wise Parsons Ford 15.088s Q1 33. Alex Bowman BK Toyota 15.089s Q1 34. Michael Annett Baldwin Chevrolet 15.121s Q1 35. Reed Sorenson Baldwin Chevrolet 15.151s Q1 36. Danica Patrick Stewart-Haas Chevrolet 15.153s Q1 37. David Reutimann Front Row Ford 15.154s Q1 38. Tony Stewart Stewart-Haas Chevrolet 15.163s Q1 39. Brian Vickers Waltrip Toyota 15.175s Q1 40. Travis Kvapil Go FAS Ford 15.192s Q1 41. Ryan Truex BK Toyota 15.306s Q1 42. Dave Blaney Humphrey Toyota 15.330s Q1 43. Parker Kligerman Swan Toyota 15.417s Q1 44. Joe Nemechek Waltrip Toyota 15.659s Q1 45. Timmy Hill Circle Sport chevrolet 15.717s Q1