Thursday, May 23
RECORD RUN BOOSTS HAMLIN TO COCA-COLA POLE: Denny Hamlin won the pole for Sunday’s 54th running of the Coca-Cola 600 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Hamlin drew a late qualifying number and proceeded to shatter the existing track record. He ran a lap of 195.624 mph in claiming his second career pole at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
“The crew gave me an awesome car. We knew we had to improve from last week,” said Hamlin. “We’re happy about everything. It’s like a victory for me. It’s a big step for the weekend. It’s a sign for things to come.”
Hamlin took the top starting position from second place qualifier Kurt Busch. Qualifying third was Matt Kenseth followed by Mark Martin and Clint Bowyer in the top five. Rounding out the top 10 were Kasey Kahne, Greg Biffle, Kyle Busch, Jamie McMurray and Ryan Newman.
Early pole leader Kyle Busch was the first driver to set a new track record. He was promptly bested by brother Kurt Busch as the track began to cool and times became quicker. The elder Busch brother was able to hold on to the top spot until late in qualifying when Denny Hamlin took over on the leader board. Hamlin then was never challenged as the final qualifiers made their runs and earned his 14th career pole.
DENNY HAMLIN (WINNER, No. 11 FedEx Office Toyota): “We ran real fast. You gotta have a fast car. The crew just gave me an awesome car. We knew we had to improve from where we ran last week. Darian Grubb (crew chief) and the guys stepped up. I’ve got to thank the Joe Gibbs team for giving me cars that are capable of speeds like that. We’re happy about everything. It’s like a victory for me. I normally wouldn’t commit myself to running a lap like that. It’s too dangerous. I would take my fifth or sixth place and kind of move on. We have a mission ahead, and that is to try and make The Chase. The best way to do that is to win races. To win races you have to have every advantage you can. I was really just committed to running the best lap I could. This is a big step for the weekend. It’s a sign of things to come. I think winning would be the validation to being back. Ultimately, getting the trophy would be the validation that you are truly back. For me, it’s going to take some wins and a lot of really good consistency throughout these summer months to have a chance for the championship. That’s what we’re here for. These small victories, though, help build confidence. I am still capable and still able to do the job 100 percent like I should be. Any kind of confidence booster for me is good.”
KURT BUSCH (2nd Place, No. 78 Furniture Row Chevrolet) “It was an extremely fast car. Those guys, they keep delivering pole-winning type cars each and every week. I just didn’t quite hit my mark exactly right in (turns) 3 and 4. And I knew we might get beat by somebody. I was just hoping that we might get a gift. But Denny Hamlin laid it down and it was incredible to watch. It was just hugging the line in (turns) 3 and 4 exactly like you would watch cars back in the day. You knew that was going to be a fast lap. I didn’t do my job, but the crew is doing an incredible job. We just have fast cars week in and week out. I told them we had a pole-winning car today. We didn’t have a pole-winning draw in the midrange. It’s part of the game. For us, this is nothing to hang our heads about. We have a front row starting spot for the Coca-Cola 600 and I’m pumped up. I think the race will come to us and we just have to work hard on Saturday to get the car dialed in for 50-lap stints instead of 20-lap stints, which you see in the All-Star Race. Again, my guys give me fast cars and I want to deliver for them.”
MATT KENSETH (3rd Place, No. 20 Home Depot/Husky Toyota) “We really got ready for tonight. We have all day Saturday to get ready for Sunday. So we haven’t been in race trim at all, like most of the people in the garage did. I really like the way this car drives. I’m really encouraged how it responded to all the changes we made to it today, so I feel good about that. It was a good lap and I was pretty happy with that.”