Denny Hamlin edges Kurt Busch to earn Pocono pole

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Denny Hamlin became the James Bond of NASCAR on Friday, kicking Kurt Busch off the pole with a late run to earn the No. 1 qualifying spot for Sunday’s Pocono 400 at Pocono Raceway.

Hamlin edged Busch by .007 mph – 181.415 mph for Hamlin to Busch’s 181.408 effort around the 2.5-mile tri-oval.

Even more, Hamlin beat Busch to the pole by a razor-thin margin of just .002 seconds.

It was Hamlin’s second pole of the season and third career pole at Pocono, where he has four wins, eight top-fives and 10 top-10s in 19 career starts.

“We really just made the car a lot better,” Hamlin told Fox Sports afterward. “Each session, our balance got a little bit better and we were able to get a little bit more speed out of it. That’s what you want to do, you want to play it just enough in the first few rounds and then in the final round you go all-out. It’s good to have a good Friday.

“It’s good to get a track record and have that No. 1 pit stall, that’ll pay dividends on Sunday, and I have the best pit crew on pit road. So hopefully, this lends itself to a great win on Sunday.”

Meanwhile, it was Busch’s first front-row starting spot of 2014.

“We haven’t done our job to the best of our ability, and this was a good turn for the better,” Busch said.

Brad Keselowski failed to put Team Penske on the front row yet again, but still qualified third at 181.316 mph. Kevin Harvick was fourth-fastest at 180.832 mph.

Jeff Gordon was fifth (180.513), followed by Kyle Busch (180.458), Joey Logano (179.827), Dale Earnhardt Jr. (179.565), Brian Vickers (179.548) and Carl Edwards (189.383).

Rounding out the top 12 in the third and final qualifying session were Austin Dillon in 11th (179.326) and Tony Stewart (179.126).

Six-time and defending Sprint Cup champ Jimmie Johnson blamed himself for driver error for losing time on the track, ultimately resulting in a 20th-place qualifying position.

Dave Blaney spun just past the midpoint of the first qualifying session, but did not hit anything.

Here’s the starting grid for Sunday’s Pocono 400 at Pocono Raceway:

Row 1 Denny Hamlin, Kurt Busch

Row 2 Brad Keselowski, Kevin Harvick

Row 3 Jeff Gordon, Kyle Busch

Row 4 Joey Logano, Dale Earnhardt Jr.

Row 5 Brian Vickers, Carl Edwards

Row 6 Austin Dillon, Tony Stewart

Row 7 Greg Biffle, Kyle Larson

Row 8 Ryan Newman, Danica Patrick

Row 9 Martin Truex Jr., Jamie McMurray

Row 10 Clint Bowyer, Jimmie Johnson

 

Row 11 AJ Allmendinger, Aric Almirola

Row 12 Paul Menard, Justin Allgaier

Row 13 Casey Mears, Matt Kenseth

Row 14 Kasey Kahne, Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

Row 15 Marcos Ambrose, Michael Annett

Row 16 Landon Cassill, David Ragan

Row 17 Travis Kvapil, Alex Bowman

Row 18 David Gilliland, Reed Sorenson

Row 19 Josh Wise, JJ Yeley

Row 20 Timmy Hill, Cole Whitt

Row 21 Ryan Truex, Ben Kennedy

Row 22 Dave Blaney

There were no DNQs.

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Fernando Alonso confirmed for Toyota LMP1 test in Bahrain

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SAKHIR, Bahrain – Fernando Alonso will take his first step towards a possible entry to the 24 Hours of Le Mans when he tests an LMP1 car for Toyota on Sunday at the Bahrain International Circuit.

McLaren Formula 1 driver and two-time world champion Alonso is hoping to appear at Le Mans next year as part of his bid to become just the second man in history to complete the ‘Triple Crown of Motorsport’.

Alonso has already completed one leg by winning the Monaco Grand Prix twice, and made his debut at the Indianapolis 500 in May with McLaren-Honda-Andretti, retiring late on due to an engine failure.

Momentum is building for Alonso to make his Le Mans debut with Toyota in 2018, starting with a first sports car run-out in the FIA World Endurance Championship’s end-of-season rookie test in Bahrain on Sunday.

Alonso arrived in Bahrain on Saturday to watch the six-hour WEC race as an invited guest of the Bahraini royal family, with his participation in the test being confirmed after the race.

“We are very excited that Fernando will test our car. When he visited us in Cologne everyone who met him could sense his enthusiasm and passion for our sport; he is a true racer,” Toyota Gazoo Racing team president Hisatake Murata said.

“We very much respect his interest in different forms of motorsport and it is a pleasure to offer him this chance to drive a hybrid LMP1 car. It will be interesting to hear his feedback on the TS050 Hybrid.”

Alonso will share running in the Toyota car with 19-year-old Thomas Laurent, who received a test as a prize for his star display during his rookie WEC campaign this year, while regular Toyota racer Mike Conway will also complete laps.