CONCORD, N.C. – Denny Hamlin kicked off the second round of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series playoffs Friday by winning the pole for Sunday’s Bank of America 500 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
Hamlin led a Joe Gibbs Racing sweep of the front row for Sunday’s event at the 1.5-mile speedway with Matt Kenseth qualifying second. Hamlin’s 21.184-second lap at 191.598 mph gave him the top spot over Kenseth’s 28.200-second lap at 191.489 mph.
The pole was Hamlin’s first pole of the season, the 25th of his NASCAR Cup Series career and his second at Charlotte Motor Speedway. He’ll be looking to score his first Charlotte Motor Speedway NASCAR Cup Series victory on Sunday.
Despite not having a Cup Series victory at Charlotte, Hamlin has finished inside the top-10 in 12 of his last 14 starts. He credited his teammates Kenseth and Kyle Busch for helping him figure out the track at Charlotte.
“I think honestly it was when Matt Kenseth and Kyle Busch came to JGR, I think I learned a lot from them at this race track. It was never one of my best race tracks before they came on board,” Hamlin said. “Since then I’ve kind of copied their style and it has been pretty successful for me. I love this track. We do really, really well here.”
Kenseth is hoping to turn his front row starting position into his third victory at Charlotte Motor Speedway, which would punch his ticket to the third round of the playoffs. He scored his first NASCAR Cup Series victory at Charlotte Motor Speedway in 2000 and collected his second victory at the track in 2011.
“I got a good lap in the third round, I was just a little too aggressive trying to get to the green. That probably cost us the pole,” Kenseth admitted. “Track position is obviously important. Track position, restarts, pit stops, strategy, all that stuff. This is not probably the easiest go to typically to pass.
“It’s always important to be up front and try to get a good pit stall for Sunday. That’s how you want to start your weekend.”
Harvick qualified third after setting the fastest time in the first two rounds of qualifying. Busch qualified fourth despite bouncing off the turn four wall earlier in the afternoon during the opening round of practice. Clint Bowyer completed the top-five.
Brad Keselowski, who also spun during the first practice session in turn four, qualified sixth. Chase Elliott was next in seventh, followed by Kurt Busch, Kasey Kahne, Kyle Larson, Ryan Newman and Danica Patrick.
Five of the 12 remaining playoff drivers failed to advance to the final round of qualifying. Ryan Blaney qualified the highest of those five in 15th. Points leader Martin Truex Jr. had one of his worst qualifying efforts of the season, timing in 17th. Jamie McMurray qualified 18th and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. qualified 22nd.
Jimmie Johnson, the seven-time and defending NASCAR Cup Series champion, was the lone playoff driver who failed to advance past the first round of qualifying. He will start 25th on Sunday.
Three drivers – Erik Jones, Brett Moffitt and Corey LaJoie – failed to set qualifying times after their cars didn’t make it through inspection. They’ll start Sunday’s race from the tail of the field.