The fire continues to burn for Joe Gibbs Racing. JGR driver Denny Hamlin set a track qualifying record at Bristol Motor Speedway Friday in route to winning the pole for Saturday night’s NASCAR Sprint Cup series Irwin Tools Night Race. Hamlin put down a lap of 14.602 seconds, 131.407 mph just past the halfway point of the final five minutes of three rounds of group qualifying to secure his second pole of 2015 and the 22nd of his career. Two of his teammates were right there with him as Kyle Busch who led the final practice earlier Friday, will start second and Carl Edwards third. The front row matched that of Friday nights Xfinity Series race as Hamlin won the pole for that race and Busch lined up second. Hamlin finished fifth in the two round preceding the final five minutes.
“I had a little bit left in the tank,” Hamlin said. “The last round is the one that pays”
“It looks like I really got the car working the way I needed to there in that final practice,” he added. “A testament to these guys and what Dave Rogers (crew chief) did for us.”
The only driver of the four-car contingent to miss out on the JGR party was Matt Kenseth. Last week’s pole winner and winner at Michigan just missed advancing to the final round and will start 13th Saturday night. Kenseth joins several other big names who failed to advance including Dale Earnhardt Jr. who will start 20th, Martin Truex Jr. who starts 23rd and five time pole and race winner Jeff Gordon who will start his last race at Bristol in 24th.
“Well, I don’t know what the other guys are fighting, but my car is just real tight on the exit and pretty loose getting in,” Gordon said. “We didn’t qualify very good here the last time we were here and heck, I think this time we were worse than we were the last time. But we raced really good.” (Gordon qualified 23rd in the spring and finished third.)
Perhaps no one struggled more than Tony Stewart however. Stewart made his first run early in the first 25-minute session and could only manage a 40th. The team made furious adjustments and Stewart made one final run but failed to better his lap; he will start 40th Saturday night.
Stewart’s teammate and reigning champion Kevin Harvick also struggled during his first laps. However, he was able to make the right adjustments and did advance to the final round.
“The first round just got loose and that kind of put us behind the whole time,” Harvick said. “Other than that the car drove pretty good, really throughout every round. Had a little bit of trouble with all the engine stuff shutting off at the end of the straightaway so that was definitely hurting us.”
Joey Logano had an eventful qualifying session. He had a tire going flat during the first round but was able to advance to the second and third rounds. He will roll off fifth Saturday right behind David Ragan.
“The guys did a good job getting me through the first round just pumping the tire up with a lot of air and just hoped it would hold enough to make a lap a little faster than what we ran the first time,” Logano said. “Then they allowed us to change the tire and put a scuff on, so we were able to put our mock qualifiers back on and then we got to the next round and qualified fifth.”
Behind Logano, his teammate Brad Keselowski will start sixth, Harvick seventh with Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Clint Bowyer and Jimmie Johnson rounding out the top 10. Jeb Burton, Travis Kvapil and Reed Sorenson failed to make the field. The full lineup can be found here, the qualifying results here. The Irwin Tools Night Race will get the green flag just past 7:30 p.m. ET Saturday night with live coverage on the NBC Sports Network, , PRN, and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio.