Two of Joe Gibbs Racing’s three Chasers and the defending Sprint Cup champion will have to ring up good results in the Contender Round opener from bad spots on the grid.
Needing to crack the Top 24 to advance to the next round of today’s qualifying session of Kansas Speedway, Denny Hamlin ran an identical lap of 27.873 seconds with Ryan Newman for the 24th position.
But because Newman was re-seeded higher than Hamlin following the conclusion of the Challenger Round – Newman got the 9th seed, Hamlin the 11th – Newman moved to Round 2 while Hamlin was forced to settle for 25th on the grid for Sunday’s Hollywood Casino 400.
“…Our cars just don’t have any speed,” Hamlin said to ESPN. “Balance is fine, just three-tenths and four-tenths off consistently. All of our cars are, so it’s just disappointing.
“We can’t have any more speed out of our cars, but we’re trying all we can, doing all we can to move up. We’re gonna have to come from the tail end of the pack but it’s a track position race. Maybe we’ll play the strategy right and try to sneak a good finish out of here.”
JGR teammate Matt Kenseth fared worse, qualifying two spots behind Hamlin in 27th.
“As a group, that’s about where we were in practice,” said Kenseth. “We just missed the first cutoff. Second run, I was pretty balanced, and that was as fast as I could go. We just got a little too loose on the last one.
“At this point, we’ll get it ready to go for the race tomorrow and hopefully have it right on Sunday.”
Then there’s Jimmie Johnson, who had not posted a time quick enough to put himself provisionally into the Top 24 before he looped his No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet around in Turn 2.
Johnson was able to save the car from smashing into the wall, but with only one set of tires for use across all qualifying rounds – and with his tires having been flat-spotted – his Friday was done.
He’ll start 32nd on Sunday, causing NASCAR on NBC contributor Nate Ryan to make an interesting statistical note: