DOVER — Like a basketball player beating the shot clock, Denny Hamlin waited until the last possible moment to win the pole for Sunday’s FedEx 400 benefiting Autism Speaks.
Hamlin was the last driver to attempt a qualifying run in the third and final round during NASCAR Sprint Cup qualifying on Friday afternoon at Dover International Speedway.
He knocked Martin Truex Jr. off the pole with less than 30 seconds remaining. The pole-winning lap was 22.483 seconds with an average speed of 160.121 mph.
“Our car has shown speed all day long,” “Hamlin said. “That’s something that we haven’t had lately, so we’re kind of building and getting a little bit better and starting to figure out our setups.”
Hamlin has won three of the last six poles at Dover, though he hasn’t won any of those races.
“We still haven’t won here but we’ve been a lot more competitive for sure,” Hamlin said. “Whatever it is about the qualifying here seems to suit my driving style.”
Kyle Larson had led the field for a majority of the final round until Truex went to the top of the leaderboard in the closing minute. His lead was short lived as Hamlin was just beginning his lap when Truex took the pole.
“We were close,” Truex said. “For whatever reason we thought we were in good shape, and then right there I went to go for it and for some reason the car just got really tight laying it down in the corners. So we missed it by a little bit, but I’m obviously proud of the continued effort by all the guys on the Furniture Row team.”
It’s the first time this season Truex will start on the front row. Larson will start third which is his best starting position of the year.
Matt Kenseth and Joey Logano round out the top five.
Earlier in the day, Brad Keselowski’s track record qualifying speed of 164.44 mph looked vulnerable as Jimmie Johnson led practice at 163.867 mph and Hamlin followed at 163.532.
But the teams didn’t pick up any speed. Rather, going into qualifying the weather became less cloudy, which led to less grip on the race track.
Johnson, last year’s winner in this race, was most affected by the changes as he didn’t even make the final round. He qualified 14th (158.814 mph) as he looks for his 10th career victory at the Monster Mile.
“I think in a sense we didn’t make the changes we needed to because the car had so much speed in the first practice session,” Johnson said. “But it’s a totally different race track from then. We tried to plan ahead and make some small changes, but it wasn’t enough. There is so little grip compared to what we had this morning.”
Johnson’s teammates at Hendrick Motorsports experienced similar problems. For the second weekend in a row, no Hendrick drivers made the final round of qualifying.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. will start 16th, Jeff Gordon 22nd and Kasey Kahne didn’t even make it passed the first round as he had to settle for 25th.
“I think the track might be a touch different but our car was really different,” Kahne said. “The whole car just really shook. When it landed in the corner it even vibrated, shook and bounced and did everything worse than in the straightaway. It didn’t do that in practice.”
Travis Kvapil and Jeff Green were the only two drivers who failed to make the field of 43.