SPEEDWAY, Ind. – Two weeks ago, Denny Hamlin lost a race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway when he had “Failure to communicate” with crew chief Darian Grubb.
That’s when Hamlin said the car needed “tires” and Grubb took that to mean four instead of two. After a one-week break, Hamlin and Grubb are back on the same page as Hamlin won the pole Saturday for Sunday’s 19th Annual Crown Royal presents the Curtiss Shaver 400 at the Brickyard.
Hamlin’s Toyota was the fastest on Saturday with a fast lap of 182.763 miles per hour around the 2.5-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway. It’s Hamlin’s first Brickyard 400 pole in seven attempts and the 11th pole of his Sprint Cup career.
“You don’t want one of NASCAR’s most prestigious races to be at one of your bad race tracks, and so I feel like this is one of our strong race tracks with our team even though stats-wise it may not show that,” Hamlin said. “I feel like when we come here, we can win every single time. You ask me that about a couple other tracks, I would say no. This is very, very high up on my list of tracks to want to win. I consider it as high as the Daytona 500 personally, so this is a great start to our weekend knowing we have the No. 1 pit stall, we have obviously a fast car, and I have a great pit crew that’s going to hopefully keep me out front all day. All those things put together leads to success on Sunday, and I think we’ve got a good start to that.”
Hamlin is attempting to win the Brickyard 400 for the first time in his career. In six previous starts at Indianapolis Hamlin has one top-five (third in 2008) and two top-10 finishes. He was 14th in two of the last three Brickyards.
Before Saturday his best start at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway was 10th in 2007.
“I think our car was good,” Hamlin said. “The only disadvantage we had was that the sun was out at least on the front stretch from what I could see. When you do that, it’s more about just hitting your marks. You know the track is going to be slick and you have to prepare for that. It was — the track was slick as what I thought. I just made sure I hit my marks — that was the most important thing. It was a great day for our FedEx Express Toyota. We feel like we have a car that will race good.”
With two wins so far in 2012 Hamlin is fifth in the Cup points standings. Another victory would give the driver from Midlothian, Va., some valuable bonus points when the Chase begins in September.
“Really no pressure — it’s all about winning from this point on for our team,” Hamlin said. “It’s all about getting those three bonus points that will help us in the Chase. We saw last year that three points can make a difference in winning a championship and not. We are going to try to give it everything we can and obviously a good starting spot would go a long way.
“I think that there were a few cars. I thought a few Hendrick cars were pretty good. You know, I think my teammates, I think Kyle (Busch) and Joey (Logano) will be pretty good. Obviously, any time they qualify good, it’s pretty indicative of how fast their car is. I think they’re going to be the guys we’re going to be battling. Anyone who ran good at Pocono I would assume is going to be racing for a win here.”
Joe Gibbs Racing has two cars in the top three with Logano starting third with a fast lap of 181.756 miles per hour. That was just a tick off second-place qualifier Carl Edwards’ 181.984 mph.
“There’s not an easy part here — this place is so line sensitive,” Logano said. “You have to hit your line right in all four corners and that’s a really big deal so if you miss it, that’s a really big deal. It’s really tricky around here. I felt like we had a decent lap in our Dollar General Camry. The car wasn’t quite perfect, but we’ve been working on the thing really hard. We didn’t unload very good. We’ve been working hard and making improvements with it.
“I’ve blown up in practice here twice and had to start in the back, and I know it’s really, really hard and it takes all day to get up there. So starting towards the front is going to be — I think it’s more important here than probably anywhere we go. So it should help.”
By qualifying for the outside of the first row it was Edwards’ seventh top-10 of 2012 and his third in eight races at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
“That was a really good lap for us,” Edwards said. “I am just proud of everyone for coming together and working together. Everyone at the shop, Chad Norris, Bob Osborne, all the engineers and everyone here at the track who said, ‘Alright, let’s put everything we can into this for the next seven weeks.’ I know this is just the first lap of our run toward the Chase but that is a good lap.
“This is huge for us. I think it is a testament to our whole team and everyone at the shop and their ability to rally around a cause. After Loudon we were all scratching our heads and met on Monday and Bob finally let us in on all the stuff he was struggling with and we realized two things about him; how tough he is and his ability to perform through everything he had been going through the last year or so. Second I learned how humble of a guy he is to be able to say, ‘Hey, look the best thing is to have Chad going forward and however I can help is how I want to help.’ That is pretty amazing for a guy to be able to do that. To come here two weeks later and have a qualifying effort like this says a lot about Bob, Jack, Chad and all the engineers that have put their effort into this. I know it is just one lap and anything can happen in the race but it is really good. I also have to say that Scott Borchetta from Big Machine Records came down and talked to me before qualifying so I am going to have to ask him to do that each week now. He is good luck. He is letting me introduce Justin Moore before his concert before the race. I am pretty excited about getting to go on stage and introduce my buddy before he plays for everybody. It is a fun weekend and I am glad it got started that way.”
Aric Almirola put the Richard Petty Motorsports Ford fourth at 181.679 mph with Greg Biffle’s Ford rounding out the top-five at 181.532 mph.
Five-time Cup champion and three-time Brickyard 400 winner Jimmie Johnson was sixth in a Chevrolet at 181.357 mph.
“I think our whole organization has shown we have a lot of speed and are getting better and better,” Johnson said. “We were fast at Pocono and that stuff applies here. We feel real good about it. This is the best day I’ve had in terms of practice and qualifying as far as feel in the car. I’m looking forward to a good day tomorrow. I think the race will be similar to year’s past. Track position will be very important. You’ll have to be a lot faster than someone to pass them. At the end it’s about track position and how the strategy plays out on the run to the checkered flag.’
Four-time Brickyard 400 winner and four-time Cup champion Jeff Gordon qualified ninth at 180.952 mph. Fan favorite Dale Earnhardt, Jr. qualified 20th at 180.245 mph.
Two-time Brickyard 400 winner and three-time Cup champion Tony Stewart of Columbus, Ind., had a miserable qualification effort of 28th with a lap at 178,862 mph and had little to say afterwards.
“Terrible,” Stewart said. “I should have been on the gas on the exit and try and knock the fence down. Instead of being on the gas late exit I’m off the gas and that doesn’t work here.
“The time of day is actually the right time of day to it. It’s pretty much the same for everybody all the way across as far as temperatures. It’s probably better than what we normally have as far as early Saturday morning qualifying. It’s a little bit of a challenge. This is the hottest part of the day that we ran in. Everybody is planning for it so it’s not that it’s treacherous or anything you just have to guess right.
“Normally if you are in the middle of the pack it’s because your car is not driving very good. It’s going to be a long day tomorrow.”
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