Denny Hamlin won the pole for Sunday’s AAA 400 NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Auto Club Speedway, as Joe Gibbs Racing swept the front row in the late afternoon qualifying session.
All three JGR Toyotas were fast, with Hamlin and his No. 11 JGR entry qualifying at 186.403 mph, while teammate Kyle Busch had a lap of 185.534 mph in the No. 18 Toyota, good enough for the outside of Row 1.
Hamlin became the fifth different pole winner in five Sprint Cup races this season, as he won his 10th career pole in 228 starts. It was his first pole since Martinsville in October 2010.
It’s been an up-and-down season so far for Hamlin, who won the second race of the season at Phoenix, but followed it up with consecutive — and disappointing — 20th-place finishes at Las Vegas and Bristol.
“We're four weeks in,” Hamlin said of his 2012 campaign to date. “We've had two good weeks and two bad weeks — obviously, coming off the two bad weeks. There's light at the end of the tunnel. I feel like this weekend we have a little bit more speed than we've had in Vegas. ... We're getting better. We have some good stuff coming I feel like with our team. We're heading in the right direction.”
Busch was also pleased with his lap.
“I felt like our car was pretty decent,” he said. “Just missed a little bit down in (Turns) 1 and 2, maybe drove it in there a little too far but when I got back in it I could commit really well.”
Mark Martin made it a Toyota 1-2-3, qualifying the No. 55 Michael Waltrip Racing entry third, his speed identical to Busch’s. Then it was Sprint Cup points leader Greg Biffle, who ran 185.510 mph in the No. 16 Roush Fenway Racing Ford.
Row three will be Kasey Kahne, the man who replaced Martin at Hendrick Motorsports, and Ryan Newman, followed by Kevin Harvick, the third JGR Toyota of Joey Logano, Tony Stewart and Jimmie Johnson. Dale Earnhardt Jr. qualified 14th.
Biffle comes into this race with a lead of 9 points over Kevin Harvick and 12 over Matt Kenseth.
There will be two Sprint Cup practices on Saturday, both of which will be televised by SPEED. The first runs from 12:30-1:20 p.m. ET, with Happy Hour from 3:50-4:50 p.m.
Tom Jensen is the Editor in Chief of SPEED.com, Senior NASCAR Editor at RACER and a contributing Editor for TruckSeries.com. You can follow him online at twitter.com/tomjensen100.