Fontana, CA – Denny Hamlin claimed his third pole at Auto Club Speedway after posting the fastest lap in Friday's qualifying for the Auto Club 400.
Hamlin, who was third in the 43-car qualifying field, turned a lap at 187.451 mph to earn the top starting position for the 400-mile race at this 2-mile Southern California racetrack. The Joe Gibbs Racing driver also won the pole for this event one year ago. His first pole here came in October 2009.
"It was fast," Hamlin said of his lap. "I told my crew I could pretty much guarantee the pole had we qualified - anywhere 20th or later (in the qualifying order). I knew our car was just ridiculous fast in qualifying trim."
Hamlin has yet to win a Sprint Cup race in 12 starts at Fontana. His best finish at this track is third, which came in the fall 2008 event.
Greg Biffle qualified second at 187.217 mph, while Brad Keselowski, the defending Sprint Cup Series champion, placed third at 187.149 mph. But Biffle and Keselowski will have to start from the rear of the field due to engine changes made on their Fords during practice earlier in the day.
"That was a spectacular lap considering everything we did today," Biffle said. "We were fortunate enough to get an extra hour of practice here, and unfortunately, we had about eight minutes of practice today before qualifying. The guys worked really hard to get the engine changed. I got out with three minutes to go to make a lap, and we made adjustments from that lap. We were able to put down a pretty fast lap."
Keselowski has finished no worse than fourth in the first four races this season.
Matt Kenseth qualified, fifth followed by Joey Logano, Martin Truex Jr. and Tony Stewart, who won the rain-shortened race at this track last year. Mark Martin and Kurt Busch completed the top-10.
Hamlin's pole at Fontana comes five days after he and Logano were involved in an altercation at Bristol Motor Speedway. Hamlin hit the back of Logano, his former teammate at JGR, and spun him out late in the race.
After the race concluded, Logano and Hamlin had words with each other, which then led to a shoving match between both of their teams. The ruckus quickly came to an end, but Hamlin and Logano later traded jabs on Twitter.
"As far as I'm concerned, there's nothing to it from here on out," Hamlin said. "Other than reading on Twitter every now and then, and then the media updates, I don't know anything else about it."
Keselowski presently holds a nine-point lead over Dale Earnhardt Jr. and a 15- point advantage over Jimmie Johnson, who has the most wins at this track with five. Earnhardt Jr. qualified 15th and Johnson, who hails from nearby El Cajon, Calif., was 18th.
Danica Patrick struggled again in qualifying with a 40th-place finish. Since winning the pole for the Feb. 24 season-opening Daytona 500, Patrick has qualified no better than 40th.
All 43 drivers who attempted qualifying made the starting field for Sunday's race, which is scheduled to start at 3 p.m. ET.