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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