Denny Hamlin will start from the pole in the Bojangles’ Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway thanks to a lap of 173.571mph in the final round of qualifying.
In the first round, Hamlin was seventh fastest. He was fourth in the second round. By earning the pole, Hamlin will lead the field to the green flag at Darlington for the first time. The pole is also his third of the season and the 29th of his career.
“The number one pit stall is obviously very important here, I’m excited about that,” said Hamlin. “Really, the team has done a great job with the car all weekend, so pretty optimistic and you know hopeful that we have a good smooth race on Sunday and continue to build some momentum here over the next few weeks.”
Hamlin is a two-time Southern 500 winner, his most recent being last season. And this race marks one full year since Hamlin last went to victory lane in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series.
Joining Hamlin on the front row will be Kyle Larson, who had been fastest in the first round. Larson’s quickest lap in the final round was 173.411mph.
Making up the rest of the top five in qualifying were Martin Truex Jr. at 173.204mph, Alex Bowman at 173.155mph, and Kyle Busch at 173.064mph. Truex is the 2016 Darlington race winner, and Busch won at Darlington in 2008.
Ryan Newman was sixth fastest at 172.832mph. Erik Jones was seventh at 172.511mph with Joey Logano eighth fastest at 172.505mph. Kurt Busch will start ninth after a lap of 172.336mph, and William Byron completed the top 10 at 172.245mph.
Among those failing to advance to the final round of qualifying were Jimmie Johnson in 20th and Kevin Harvick in 22nd.
Drivers eliminated after the first round of qualifying included Kasey Kahne in 29th and Jamie McMurray in 31st. However, McMurray was treating the session like practice after his team had to change engines after blowing up Friday. McMurray ran 12 laps.
The first round of qualifying was halted with six minutes remaining when Jeffrey Earnhardt spun off Turn 2 and hit the inside wall. Earnhardt was evaluated and released from the care center and will go to a backup car for Sunday night’s race.
UP NEXT: 69th annual Bojangles’ Southern 500 at 6 p.m. ET on NBCSN.