BRISTOL, Tenn. – Someone finally figured out a way to beat Team Penske during NASCAR Sprint Cup Series knockout qualifying.
Denny Hamlin earned his first pole of 2014 Friday at Bristol Motor Speedway, securing the top spot with a 14.761-second lap around the half-mile Bristol oval. His track record lap was enough to give him the pole over Team Penske driver Brad Keselowski.
“Every new rules change we have just makes these cars go a little bit faster,” said Hamlin, who completed a grand total of two laps during the entire qualifying session. “Darian (Grubb, crew chief) just made an excellent call with our adjustments and the team stepped up. We were pretty strategic in how we executed that qualifying session.
“We thought that it was going to be one and done (one lap) for us. We felt like one good effort in that final round (would be enough). Luckily we didn’t have to go back out there. I don’t know if we would have even made it on time.”
Hamlin’s Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Matt Kenseth qualified third for the Food City 500, followed by Team Penske’s Joey Logano. Marcos Ambrose put his Ford in fifth, followed by Jeff Gordon, Kyle Busch, Greg Biffle, Ryan Newman and Kasey Kahne. Jimmie Johnson and Carl Edwards were the other drivers involved in the final round of knockout qualifying.
Before Friday, Team Penske’s Logano and Keselowski had dominated Sprint Cup knockout qualifying. They shared the front row at Phoenix Int’l Raceway and Las Vegas Motor Speedway, each earning a pole to begin the new era of qualifying in NASCAR’s three national divisions.
Logano was fastest in the first 30-minute session during qualifying, leading the way with a 14.832-second lap at 129.369 mph. Gordon, Hamlin, Newman, Edwards, Busch, Johnson, Keselowski, Biffle, Ambrose, Kahne and Kenseth followed.
The first five drivers who failed to advance to the final qualifying session were Kurt Busch, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Clint Bowyer, David Gilliland and Jamie McMurray.
Failing to qualify for Sunday’s race were Dave Blaney and David Reutimann.