Hamlin zips to record lap for 600 pole
Denny Hamlin prefers not pushing his car to the limit in qualifying.
“I’m one of those guys who usually doesn’t want to try to pick up one-tenth (of a second) for fear of losing three-tenths,” Hamlin said. “I would just rather take my sixth to eighth place because if you lose that three-tenths and wind up 30th, you not only lose track position at the start of the race but you put your pit crew in a hole with a bad pit position.”
But, after drawing a late qualifying position and hearing provisional fast qualifier Kurt Busch admit that he didn’t run a perfect lap despite smashing the Charlotte Motor Speedway track record, Hamlin decided to go for broke as he tries to play catch up in his effort to make the Chase for the Championship after missing four races because of a neck injury suffered at Fontana, Calif.
The change in attitude resulted in Hamlin going faster than Busch and winning the pole with a lap of 195.624 that smashed the old record by almost two miles an hour as a total of eight drivers beat the old mark of 193.708 set by Greg Biffle last October.
“I normally wouldn’t commit to a lap like that because it’s too dangerous,” Hamlin said. “But we have a mission ahead of us to make the Chase. That means we have to do everything we can to win and that includes winning the pole and getting the No. 1 pit position. I was really committed to running the best lap that I could.”
Hamlin edged Busch’s lap of 195.221 by about six one-hundredths of a second. It was the seventh time this year that a track qualifying record was broken.
“I didn’t expect to do it but I knew I had to try,” Hamlin said. “The way the car drove so well, I didn’t think it was that fast.”
Busch said he knew that he could have run faster.
“I didn’t hit my mark in three and four and felt we would get beat by somebody,” Busch said. “Denny Hamlin put down an incredible lap. He was right on the white line. My hat’s off to him.”
Hamlin said he also sat in his car and closed his eyes as he listened to 10 drivers going to turn one, making mental notes of how they worked the throttle going into that turn and then noting how they qualified.
“We took all that information and made it work,” said Hamlin, who claimed he could have gone faster if needed.
Hamlin, who returned to the cockpit fulltime three weeks ago at Darlington, said the pole is not full vindication that he has come all the way back from his injury.
“Winning races would do that,” Hamlin said.
Matt Kenseth, not normally a top qualifier and one of Hamlin’s teammates at Joe Gibbs Racing, was third at 195.094. Mark Martin, Clint Bowyer, Kasey Kahne and Greg Biffle topped 194. Kyle Busch, in another Gibbs car, was eighth after being one of the first to qualify when the track was the hottest.
Local drivers Dave Blaney and Bobby Labonte qualified in the 17th row, with Blaney 33rd and Labonte 34th.