A broken back hasn't slowed Denny Hamlin down, as his competitors in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series learned once again during Friday's qualifying session for Sunday's FedEx 400 benefiting Autism Speaks at Dover International Speedway.
Sidelined for five weeks after suffering a compression fracture of his first lumbar vertebra in a last-lap crash at Fontana, Calif., in late March, Hamlin won his second straight pole of the season, his second straight at Dover and the 15th of his career.
Hamlin claimed the Coors Light pole award with a lap 157.978 mph (22.788 seconds) at the one-mile concrete track that had given him fits until he qualified first and finished eighth in last September's Chase race at the Monster Mile.
When Hamlin climbed from his car after the run, he indicated he would be happy with a starting spot in the top 10, but his time stood up to all challengers.
"I thought that all the strong cars were later in the field," explained Hamlin, who was the 19th of 43 drivers to attempt qualifying. "Especially the last two (Kasey Kahne and Kyle Busch) were very strong. When I ran the lap, I wasn't in love with it. Fundamentally, I didn't do that great of a job, but I knew the track conditions were really bad.
"We were sixth in practice, and we were only a tenth (of a second) off of what we ran in practice (in cooler conditions). In the back of my mind, I'm preparing for the worst, hoping for the best."
Martin Truex Jr. (157.798 mph) qualified second, followed by Kyle Busch (157.756 mph), Matt Kenseth (157.736 mph) and Ryan Newman (157.715 mph).
Mark Martin, Kevin Harvick, Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano and Jamie McMurray nailed down starting positions six through 10, respectively.
Kenseth, a three-time winner in the series year and Hamlin's teammate at Joe Gibbs Racing, joked that the driver of the No. 11 Toyota was making things tough on his fellow drivers since his return.
"I don't know why Denny has to come back and show off all the time right away," quipped Kenseth, who felt he got everything he could out of his car on the qualifying lap.
In a season where track records have fallen on a regular basis with NASCAR's new Gen-6 car, no driver in Friday's time trials came close to Jeremy Mayfield's 2004 mark of 161.522 mph. That was no surprise, given the hot, slick conditions that confronted the field during qualifying.
But Joe Gibbs Racing, the preeminent organization in Cup racing with five victories so far this year, owned three of the top four starting spots, as Toyota drivers swept the top four positions on the grid for Sunday's race.
Seven-time Dover winner and Cup points leader Jimmie Johnson got sideways off Turn 4 on his money lap and qualified 24th at 155.206 mph. Johnson needs a victory on Sunday to break a tie with Richard Petty and Bobby Allison for most career wins at the Monster Mile.
NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Qualifying - FedEx 400 benefiting Autism Speaks
Dover International Speedway
Friday, May 31, 2013
1. (11) Denny Hamlin, Toyota, 157.978 mph.
2. (56) Martin Truex Jr., Toyota, 157.798 mph.
3. (18) Kyle Busch, Toyota, 157.756 mph.
4. (20) Matt Kenseth, Toyota, 157.736 mph.
5. (39) Ryan Newman, Chevrolet, 157.715 mph.
6. (55) Mark Martin, Toyota, 157.604 mph.
7. (29) Kevin Harvick, Chevrolet, 157.549 mph.
8. (2) Brad Keselowski, Ford, 157.480 mph.
9. (22) Joey Logano, Ford, 157.460 mph.
10. (1) Jamie McMurray, Chevrolet, 157.405 mph.
11. (5) Kasey Kahne, Chevrolet, 157.350 mph.
12. (88) Dale Earnhardt Jr., Chevrolet, 157.240 mph.
13. (78) Kurt Busch, Chevrolet, 157.054 mph.
14. (42) Juan Pablo Montoya, Chevrolet, 156.713 mph.
15. (15) Clint Bowyer, Toyota, 156.556 mph.
16. (27) Paul Menard, Chevrolet, 156.175 mph.
17. (13) Casey Mears, Ford, 156.169 mph.
18. (99) Carl Edwards, Ford, 156.054 mph.
19. (16) Greg Biffle, Ford, 155.952 mph.
20. (24) Jeff Gordon, Chevrolet, 155.696 mph.
21. (33) Landon Cassill(i), Chevrolet, 155.440 mph.
22. (14) Tony Stewart, Chevrolet, 155.407 mph.
23. (17) Ricky Stenhouse Jr. #, Ford, 155.239 mph.
24. (48) Jimmie Johnson, Chevrolet, 155.206 mph.
25. (51) Austin Dillon(i), Chevrolet, 155.146 mph.
26. (47) Bobby Labonte, Toyota, 155.086 mph.
27. (83) David Reutimann, Toyota, 155.059 mph.
28. (38) David Gilliland, Ford, 154.972 mph.
29. (31) Jeff Burton, Chevrolet, 154.679 mph.
30. (9) Marcos Ambrose, Ford, 154.619 mph.
31. (98) Michael McDowell, Ford, 154.573 mph.
32. (19) Mike Bliss(i), Toyota, 154.500 mph.
33. (43) Aric Almirola, Ford, 154.480 mph.
34. (30) David Stremme, Toyota, 154.295 mph.
35. (34) David Ragan, Ford, 153.984 mph.
36. (87) Joe Nemechek(i), Toyota, 153.636 mph.
37. (7) Dave Blaney, Chevrolet, Owner Points
38. (93) Travis Kvapil, Toyota, Owner Points
39. (10) Danica Patrick #, Chevrolet, Owner Points
40. (36) JJ Yeley, Chevrolet, Owner Points
41. (35) Josh Wise(i), Ford, Owner Points
42. (32) Timmy Hill #, Ford, Owner Points
43. (44) Scott Riggs, Ford, Owner Points
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