Denny Hamlin scores second straight Cup pole

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For the second straight week, Denny Hamlin will lead the Sprint Cup field to the green flag. Hamlin’s lap at 157.978 mph around the Dover (Del.) International Speedway was enough to earn him the pole position for Sunday’s FedEx 400 Benefiting Autism Speaks.

“I feel like we’re hitting our stride,” he said afterwards to the Associated Press. “We’re running really well at different types of race tracks. Overall, I’m pretty happy. We still need to get those race wins.”

A win at Dover would be very big for his attempt to climb back into Chase contention after missing four races due to a back injury. However, the Monster Mile has never been one of his better tracks. In 14 career Cup starts there, Hamlin has just two Top-5 finishes and an average finish of 19.6.

He certainly can’t afford that as he tries to move up four positions to 20th in the standings, which is where he needs to be in order to get eligible for a wild-card berth in the Chase.

“I think our only play is to be aggressive,” Hamlin said to the AP. “I think that to come here and try to get a good points day is irrelevant because if we don’t win, then we’re not really accomplishing much.”

Toyota pilots will make up the first two rows of the grid, as Martin Truex Jr. joins Hamlin on the front row after posting a lap at 157.798 mph. Row 2 features Kyle Busch and Matt Kenseth, while Ryan Newman (leading the Chevrolet camp) and Mark Martin will start fifth and sixth respectively in the third row.

Among the other notables: Coca-Cola 600 winner Kevin Harvick is starting 7th; Dale Earnhardt Jr. will roll off 12th; defending race champion Jimmie Johnson goes from 24th; and Danica Patrick will try to climb up the pylon from 39th on the grid.

AJ Foyt Racing promotes Benjamin Pedersen from Indy Lights to IndyCar for 2023 season

Benjamin Pedersen AJ Foyt
AJ Foyt Racing

Benjamin Pedersen is the first driver to land a promotion from Indy Lights into IndyCar for next season as AJ Foyt Racing confirmed Wednesday he’ll be part of its 2023 lineup.

Pedersen, a 23-year-old dual citizen of Denmark and the United States, spent last season running the full Indy Lights schedule for HMD Motorsports. Linus Lundqvist, his teammate, won the Lights title, and Pedersen finished fifth in the final standings. Pedersen earned his only win earlier this month when he led every lap from the pole at Portland.

Pedersen also ran four races for HMD in 2021 with back-to-back runner-up finishes in his debut. Pedersen landed on AJ Foyt Racing team president Larry Foyt’s radar through a “trusted colleague” and Pedersen spent most of last season shadowing the IndyCar team.

His promotion to IndyCar comes ahead of all four drivers who finished ahead of him in the Indy Lights standings, including champion Lundqvist.

“We are really looking forward to having Benjamin as part of the team,” Larry Foyt said. “His enthusiasm is infectious, and he is 100 percent committed to IndyCar, AJ Foyt Racing, and doing the best he can to win races.

“It’s been great to have him embedded with the team this past season, and everyone is excited to hit the ground running when testing begins. It is also great to have a multi-year program in place, which will help him and the team grow together.”

Foyt did not announce a car number for Pedersen. Kyle Kirkwood spent his rookie season driving AJ Foyt’s flagship No. 14 but Kirkwood is moving to Andretti Autosport. The team has not yet announced if Dalton Kellett will return for a fourth season, and a third car for Tatiana Calderon was pulled from competition after seven races because of sponsorship non-payment. Shutting down Calderon’s team removed the only semi-regular female driver from the IndyCar field.

Pedersen, however, was signed to an agreement Foyt said “spans multiple seasons as the team plans to develop the young rookie and is aligned to a longer-term plan for AJ Foyt Racing.”

Pedersen was born in Copenhagen but raised in Seattle and currently lives in Indianapolis. He said his time shadowing the IndyCar team has given him a jump on his rookie preparations.

“I’ve spent a lot of time this season with AJ Foyt Racing learning the ins and outs of making the jump to IndyCar and it’s been really nice to do that in conjunction with my Indy Lights season,” Pedersen said. “IndyCar has been my target goal since I started open wheel racing in 2016. The racing, atmosphere, fans, events, tracks, etc. are all awesome.”