Denny Hamlin ended two weeks of Team Penske dominance by winning the pole at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway.
Hamlin set a track record Friday with a lap at 129.991 mph to earn the top starting spot. It broke the mark of 129.535 set by Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Kyle Busch a year ago, and ensured that neither Brad Keselowski or Joey Logano won the pole for the first time since NASCAR’s new knockout qualifying debuted three weeks ago.
Hamlin ran only one lap in the first segment and it was good enough to lock him into the top 12 to advance into the second segment. He then ran one lap, took the pole for Sunday’s race, and got out of his car to see if anyone could beat him.
“As a short-track guy, I can feel when, ‘OK, this is all I’ve got.’ Or, ‘This is a really good lap,’ ” Hamlin said. He aborted an attempt at a second lap in the first segment because, “If that wasn’t a top-12 lap, we were in big trouble. So I knew that was going to be good.”
Keselowski was second at 129.965.
Several crashes at Bristol
Danica Patrick wrecked just minutes into what turned into a dicey first practice session Friday at Bristol Motor Speedway.
In all, four drivers had to go to backup cars before the halfway mark of the 90-minute session, including 15-time Bristol winner Kyle Busch.
Denny Hamlin, who watched the first 15 minutes of practice from pit road, attributed the wrecks to drivers adapting to new aerodynamic rules and Goodyear’s tire compound producing faster speeds.
“I really don’t think it’s treacherous,” Hamlin told Fox Sports 1. “It’s just the speeds are so much higher than we’ve seen. It takes a little getting used to. We are all out there fighting for a tenth-of-a-second, a hundredth-of-a-second at Bristol. I think it comes more from us pushing the edge than it is treacherous.”
Patrick was the first to wreck, losing control roughly 3 minutes into the session. She slammed into Parker Kligerman’s car, and his Swan Racing team appeared to be trying to fix his Toyota as Stewart-Haas Racing immediately pulled out the backup Chevrolet for Patrick.
Justin Allgaier then hit the wall, then Busch. Moments later, Greg Biffle crashed. All three went to backup cars.
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. later scraped the wall, but didn’t appear to do much damage.