Denny Hamlin won the pole for Sunday’s AAA 400 at Dover International Speedway, a track he considers his worst on the circuit.
Hamlin, locked in a tight championship battle, lapped the one-mile concrete oval at 159.299 miles per hour in his Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota, fastest of the 48 cars qualifying on Saturday.
“We’ve been working on getting our cars better and driving better,” said Hamlin. “… There’s no reason we can’t win.”
Next up were two other Toyotas, Michael Waltrip Racing teammates Clint Bowyer, 159.264 mph, and Martin Truex Jr., 159.200 mph.
Sam Hornish Jr. put down a lap of 158.758 mph in his No. 22 Penske Dodge, a terrific effort that put him fourth on the grid. Just .001 seconds behind Hornish was Kyle Busch’s No. 18 JGR entry, making it four Toyotas in the top five.
Greg Biffle was the first of the Fords, sixth overall with a lap of 158.541 mph in the No. 16 Roush Fenway Racing entry.
Jeff Gordon went out early in his No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet and posted a lap of 158.444 mph, which for a time put him on top of the board until Hornish’s lap. Gordon ended the session seventh, best of the Chevrolets.
Gordon comes into the race 12th in points and needs a victory or at least a top-three finish, while hoping his competitors struggle.
“Right now we are not really on anybody’s radar,” said Gordon. “They know we run good and know we can win races and yet, they know we are really far back in points. So right now it’s all on us to go do what we are capable of doing.”
Right behind Gordon was Ryan Newman, who ran 158.297 mph in the No. 39 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevy. Completing the top 10 were Kasey Kahne and Brad Keselowski. Jimmie Johnson, who has seven Dover victories, qualified 11th, with Tony Stewart 24th, one spot ahead of Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Five-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Johnson comes into Sunday’s race in the points lead again, ahead of Keselowski (-1), Hamlin (-7) and Stewart (-10).
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.