Joe Gibbs Racing’s Denny Hamlin used a late run in the final round of NASCAR Sprint Cup Series qualifying on Friday to earn his first pole of the 2015 season and the third of his career at Dover International Speedway.
Hamlin was fastest in the second round of qualifying, and then backed it up with a lap at 22.483 seconds at 160.121 miles per hour in the final round. The pole comes on a big weekend, as Hamlin is carry a special paint scheme for Autism Speaks in Sunday’s race that is sponsored by the team’s primary sponsor FedEx.
"It’s so special, especially during FedEx 400 weekend," Hamlin said after his qualifying effort. "Our FedEx Cares car is about the employees and the 70,000 hours they spend volunteering all over the world to help people in need."
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Despite the strong qualifying effort, Hamlin said his car felt even better in race trim during Friday’s lone practice session.
"I was really more optimistic about our race trim than what I was our qualifying (trim)," he said. "Very optimistic that hopefully we can put this FedEx Cares Camry in Victory Lane where it belongs on Sunday."
The fast lap by Hamlin knocked local favorite Martin Truex Jr. from the top spot. Carrying momentum into the weekend, Truex will try to get his first win of the season from the second spot.
"Missed it a little bit, but obviously proud of the continued effort of all of the guys on the Furniture Row team," Truex said. "Another awesome race car. It felt like we were just OK in practice, it didn’t feel like we were a front-row car. We made some adjustments and they hit it damn near perfect. We just needed a little bit more."
Kyle Larson, Matt Kenseth, Joey Logano, Kevin Harvick, Greg Biffle, Carl Edwards, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Kyle Busch, Jamie McMurray and Austin Dillon rounded out the top 12 qualifiers.
Biffle was fastest in the opening moments of the second round, but was bumped from the top spot by Hamlin’s lap of 22.463 seconds at 160.264 mph. Truex pushed Biffle further down the leaderboard when Truex posted a lap of 22.492 seconds at 160.057 mph.
Despite being fastest in Friday’s lone practice session, Jimmie Johnson was bumped outside the top 12 in the second round. The nine-time Dover winner made a final attempt in the closing minutes of the round, but was unable to time his way back into the top 12 and will start Sunday’s race from the 14th spot.
Also failing to advance to the final round were Kurt Busch (13th), Dale Earnhardt Jr. (16th), Ryan Newman (17th), Brad Keselowski (19th), Clint Bowyer (20th) and Jeff Gordon (22nd).
This marked the second week in a row none of the four Hendrick Motorsports cars advanced into the final round.
Coming off a strong runner-up performance at Charlotte Motor Speedway, Biffle put his No. 16 Roush Fenway Ford atop the speed charts in the opening round of qualifying.
Larson had the second-fastest lap of the opening round, while Truex, Logano and Hamlin rounded out the top five.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. used a second run in the final seconds of the opening session to bump teammate Kasey Kahne to 25th and out of the next round. Tony Stewart and Danica Patrick also failed to advance out of the opening round of qualifying and will start 26th and 33rd, respectively.
Travis Kvapil and Jeff Green were the only two cars that failed to qualify for Sunday’s FedEx 400 benefiting Autism Speaks.