Toyota scores first pole of 2019 with Denny Hamlin at Bristol Motor Speedway
Denny Hamlin’s 14.848-second/129.230 mph lap around Bristol Motor Speedway during Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series qualifying Friday garnered the driver his first Cup Series pole of 2019 for Saturday night’s Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race. It also was the first pole for Toyota this year, 24 races into the season.
“Fortunately for us, qualifying doesn’t pay any money, and it doesn’t pay any points. It really hasn’t weighed on us,” Hamlin said. "I mean, obviously, with the aero package that we have, you can make your car on most tracks as fast or slow as you want to, but you have concerns about racing after that. We’ve really focused on making our cars race well, and that’s where all the accolades come from.
"Sure, you want to win a pole. That’s obviously a big deal. If you don’t win a pole for your organization, or a manufacturer, or yourself in a year, it maybe shows a little lack of speed, but I certainly knew that we’ve had race-winning speed all year long. With the new qualifying format and all that, it’s not been our focus. It’s been the race. Certainly, we knew short tracks would be an opportunity where we could get that done.”
Kyle Larson was the only other driver of the 39 who made qualifying attempts to post a lap time over 129 mph. As a result, he claimed the other front-row starting spot to start Saturday night’s race next to Hamlin.
“I was just a little too tight, but I feel like being a little bit too tight was better than being a little bit too free, I think,” Larson said. "I saw so many people get loose through [turns] three and four, but I was just a little bit too tight to kind of roll through the center like I needed to and get to the gas just a little bit sooner. But, overall, I’m happy with how we qualified and the grip I had in my car. In practice, I was really loose. So, hopefully, we’ll have a good race tomorrow and try and get my first Bristol Cup win.”
One of Hamlin’s Joe Gibbs Racing teammates, Martin Truex Jr., qualified third to share the second row with Kurt Busch. Matt DiBenedetto, who Leavine Family Racing team has a technical alliance with JGR, also qualified in the top-10 in seventh.
“It’s awesome; it’s rewarding,” DiBenedetto said. “This is a track that we’ve had circled off anyways that we feel like we’re good at. Short tracks, road courses, ones where we can really hustle the car. It’s been good. It’s fun coming out and having good speed. I feel good about our car. I actually didn’t feel good about our qualifying lap. I’m glad we still ended up seventh, because I, along with a lot of people, got really loose.”
Three of the four Joe Gibbs Racing drivers qualified in the top-10, with Erik Jones qualifying ninth to join teammates Hamlin and Truex. The remaining JGR driver, eight-time Bristol winner Kyle Busch, wound up 31st on the grid after being the first on the track during qualifying.
Seven-time Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson also didn’t fare well during qualifying, winding up just ahead of Busch in 30th.
After the provisional pole changed hands several times early in Friday’s qualifying session before DiBenedetto went out seventh and posted the fastest lap, to that point. He remained atop the scoring pylon until Chase Elliott knocked him off after going out 20th in the qualifying order. Elliott wound up sixth by the end of qualifying, sharing the third row with fifth-place qualifier Aric Almirola.
Truex also spent some time at the top of the speed chart until Larson went out 10 cars later and posted a lap just 0.009 mph faster than Truex’s. Larson’s time at the top was short-lived, as Hamlin was the next car out.
Other top-10 qualifiers included Kevin Harvick in eighth and Alex Bowman in 10th.