Denny Hamlin wins pole at Dover International Speedway with record lap

Denny Hamlin’s 21.559-second/166.984 mph lap during Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series qualifying at Dover International Speedway not only was fast enough for the pole starting spot for Sunday’s Drydene 400, the first race of the second three-race round of the 2019 playoffs, it also set a new track qualifying record.

 "The track temperature stayed pretty consistent through, but certainly didn’t think we were going to run 23.50 by any means,” Hamlin said. “Proud to have that kind of effort with this team, and our car has, obviously, been very good. This weekend, I’ve been very comfortable with it. The speed definitely caught us off guard, but it’s a great thing for us. We can take every advantage that we can at this race track. It’s been pretty tough on me. Certainly, I feel like the advantage of having that number one pit stall and, obviously, a very fast car bodes well for us.”

The pole is Hamlin’s second of the season and only the second pole of the year, so far, for Toyota. It is the fourth of his career at Dover, though.

The top four drivers in qualifying surpassed the old Dover track qualifying record set by Chase Elliott in May. Kyle Larson’s lap was 0.003 seconds slower than Hamlin’s garnering him the other front-row spot on the starting grid.

"I felt like I ran a good lap,” Larson said. "Based on the data, it looked like I gave up a little bit off of turn four. I feel like I got there pretty good, but three-thousandths of a second when you’re going that fast isn’t much. I wish I was on the pole. I told Denny a few days ago that I was going to get the pole, so having him be just a little bit quicker then me is frustrating. But we’ll start on the front row here, and we have a good race team. Qualifying here is so much fun, especially when it’s cooler like this. We’re not all the way out of the gas, ever, so that was a lot of fun, a lot of fun.”

Hamlin held the provisional pole throughout most of the qualifying session, going out seventh of 38 drivers.

“Going out early was a benefit for us, and we just optimized it,” Hamlin said.

Playoff drivers claimed the first six starting positions. Martin Truex Jr. and Kevin Harvick qualified for second row spots and Hendrick Motorsports drivers Elliott and William Byron fifth and sixth.

“I feel good after qualifying,” Harvick said. “I didn’t think that was going to be our strong suit, and we got a good lap in, there. Starting towards the front will be important. I think our car is really good in race trim.”

All 12 of the drivers remaining in the playoffs after last weekend’s elimination race at the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval qualified in the top-12. While his Joe Gibbs Racing teammates qualified on the pole and in third, Kyle Busch was the worst qualifier among playoff drivers in 18th.

Three of the four drivers eliminated from the playoffs after the Roval race -- Aric Almirola, Erik Jones and Kurt Busch -- qualified seventh through ninth, the only non-playoff drivers in the top-10.

Ryan Blaney qualified 10th.