Denny Hamlin on pole for Fontana

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Denny Hamlin will start from the pole position for Sunday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Auto Club Speedway outside Los Angeles after throwing down a lap of 187.451 mph in today’s qualifying session.

Hamlin comes to Southern California after being involved in a post-race feud with former Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Joey Logano one week ago at Bristol Motor Speedway. He’ll share the front row with Greg Biffle on Sunday, but only momentarily — “The Biff,” as well as current championship leader Brad Keselowski (who had the third-fastest lap), will go to the rear of the field due to engine swaps before qualifying.

In addition to Hamlin’s pole run, JGR had a good Friday afternoon overall with Kyle Busch and Matt Kenseth claiming Top 5 starting spots as well. Logano qualified sixth, followed by Martin Truex Jr., defending Auto Club 400 champion Tony Stewart, Mark Martin and Kurt Busch to fill the Top 10 starting positions.

Last week’s winner at Bristol, Kasey Kahne, qualified 16th and is slated to start on the outside of Hendrick Motorsports teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr. in Row 8. As for Danica Patrick, she’ll have to once again attempt to fight her way from the back after posting the 40th-quickest time.

Auto Club 400 at Auto Club Speedway (Fontana, Calif.)
Sunday, 3 pm ET

Track Specs
2-mile oval
Turns: 14 degrees of banking
Frontstretch: 11 degrees
Backstretch: 3 degrees

Race Distance: 200 laps/400 miles

Defending Race Champion: Tony Stewart

Teammates James Hinchcliffe and Robert Wickens earn top-fives at Barber

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For the first time this season, Schmidt Peterson Motorsports teammates James Hinchcilffe and Robert Wickens earned top-five finishes in the same race at Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham, Ala.

Hinchcliffe finished third in the Grand Prix of Alabama; Wickens was one spot behind in fourth.

Wickens had one previous podium at Phoenix with his second-place finish. Hinchcliffe’s best result was a fourth in the season-opener in St Petersburg, Fla., so this marked his first podium of the year.

Both drivers needed a little help from the rain.

As precipitation began to fall in the closing stages of the race, Hinchliffe asked his team on a couple of occasions if it was wet enough to pit for rain tires. He was told twice to stay out and was then called into to the pits at the optimal time.

“Solid weekend for us after coming here before – not a great test,” Hinchcliffe said. “Two cars in the top 10 qualifying; two cars, top five in the race. Pretty proud of these boys, everybody on the Arrow car.”

The rain helped Wickens’ race strategy come together.

“I was having to save a lot of fuel in that second stint,” Wickens said. “So once (Scott) Dixon starting getting close to me I was thinking ‘Oh God, I’m going to actually have to give this one up.’ And then the rain came, so the fuel mileage happened naturally. So, yeah, it saved us a bit.”

And while both were pleased with their top-five finishes, drivers are rarely satisfied unless they are standing on the top step of the podium.

Wickens’ top-five finish was hard-fought. After winning the pole at St Petersburg and starting sixth at Phoenix, he failed to advance to the Fast 6 in back-to-back races at Long Beach and Barber – qualifying 10th both times.

“I was a little gutted that we came out in a big bunch of traffic,” Wickens continued. “It made the race fun, but a little frustrating as well because of people off sequence and whatnot. We lost a lot of track position there. Both of us could have been fighting for higher steps on the podium, but we need to do a little better job in qualifying. “