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.

Follow me @JerryBonkowski

IndyCar 2017 driver review: Sebastien Bourdais

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MotorSportsTalk continues its annual review of the Verizon IndyCar Series drivers that raced in 2017. A dream start occurred for Sebastien Bourdais and the Dale Coyne Racing team upon their reunion, followed by a nightmare in Indianapolis with a huge crash in qualifying, and ended with a rapid recovery to build confidence for 2018.

Sebastien Bourdais, No. 18 Dale Coyne Racing Honda

  • 2016: 14th Place, 1 Win, Best Start 3rd, 1 Podium, 3 Top-5, 11 Top-10, 24 Laps Led, 11.9 Avg. Start, 11.2 Avg. Finish
  • 2017: 21st Place (8 Starts), 1 Win, Best Start 6th, 2 Podiums, 2 Top-5, 5 Top-10, 74 Laps Led, 12.4 Avg. Start, 11.0 Avg. Finish

The 2017 campaign for Sebastien Bourdais upon his return to Dale Coyne Racing will forever be known as both a year of “what could have been” and a year of “what a comeback it was.”

The abnormal season for Bourdais stretched eight races with a three-month break in the middle owing to his own mistake qualifying for the Indianapolis 500, which left him with multiple pelvic fractures and a fracture to his right hip. His car was a rocket ship; but after two laps at 231 mph, Bourdais appeared to over-correct and destroyed the wall at Turn 2 in Indy in a massive 127G impact. It was a horrific looking accident, but one that also saw Bourdais rather lucky to have not been injured worse.

It set forth in motion an incredible recovery that saw Bourdais back testing the Monday after Mid-Ohio, just over two months since the accident, then in race action just over three months later at the 1.25-mile Gateway Motorsports Park oval, and because Bourdais is a regulation badass, he finished in the top-10 straight out of the box. He worked as hard as he did to return earlier than anticipated to avoid an offseason of questions asking if he’d come back and if he’d be strong enough to do so.

The recovery was a welcome story to end the year after the agony at Indy that stopped a potential title run or certainly top-five in points finish in its tracks. A classic Coyne strategy special vaulted Bourdais from last to first and a popular win in his U.S. hometown of St. Petersburg to kick off the year. A second place at Long Beach backed it up and eighth at Barber kept him atop the standings.

But Indy was shaping up to be an important bounce back weekend after Bourdais got taken out in Phoenix, then incurred an engine failure in the IMS road course race. And then, of course, his loud and violent accident qualifying for the ‘500 changed the course of the season.

After three “almost there” but largely unfulfilling years at KV Racing Technology, Bourdais embraced the family atmosphere back at Coyne along with longtime engineers Craig Hampson and Olivier Boisson, determined to continue punching above the team’s weight. He crafted a remarkable story all season and will be keen to fulfill it over the course of a proper full campaign in 2018.