Denny Hamlin captured the pole for the 2016 Federated Auto Parts 400 after turning a lap of 122.344 mph. Hamlin, who was born in nearby Chesterfield, Virginia, took risks by going out first in the final two rounds and ended up beating the more conservative teams that waited until the last few minutes.
Richmond might just be Hamlin’s second best track after Martinsville. He has recorded two wins and has led over 1400 laps in 20 starts, but what might be more impressive has been his consistency. He has finished every race he has started at Richmond and has an average finish of 10.6. He has also completed 8,000 of 8,010 laps. With nothing on the line if he doesn’t win at Richmond, thanks to his two previous wins this season guaranteeing him a Chase berth, he’ll leave it all on the track on Saturday night.
Kyle Larson ended qualifying in second place. Like Hamlin, he will clinch a spot on the Chase Grid after starting his No. 42 Chevrolet on Saturday. Larson has a lot of momentum going into the Chase, having three of his six top-five finishes this season come in the last six races.
Matt Kenseth is the defending winner of this race, and on Friday he started his weekend off well by qualifying third. Kenseth’s dominant win came after leading 352 of 400 laps.
Jamie McMurray will start fourth and is the lone driver among the top five who has not clinched a spot in the Chase. McMurray comes into this weekend with a 22 point cushion over Ryan Newman. A repeat winner and Chris Buescher falling out of the top 30 would clinch a spot in the Chase for McMurray regardless of what happens.
Kurt Busch will start fifth after being fastest in the first two rounds. Busch has two wins at Richmond, with the most recent coming at last year’s spring race. Martin Truex Jr. qualified in sixth place.
Kasey Kahne will start seventh. Kahne can make it on points but would need to gain 22 points on Newman and would also need Buescher to finish the night out of the top 30.
Austin Dillon will roll off eighth on the grid. Dillon enters with a 31 point advantage and should make the Chase as long as nothing disastrous happens.
Newman will start 15th on Saturday night as he tries to fight his way into the Chase. Newman begins the night with a 22 point deficit and needs to either make up that ground on McMurray or hope that Buescher falls out of the top 30.
Buescher starts 31st and is entering Richmond 30th in points, 11 ahead of 31st David Ragan. Buescher needs to end Saturday within the top 30 in points in order to use his Pocono win last month to get into the Chase. Ragan starts 21st.
Chase Elliott struggled in qualifying and will roll off 34th on Saturday. The good news for Chase Elliott fans is that with a 39 point cushion, Elliott won’t have much to worry about unless there is a new winner.
Cole Whitt was the lone driver that did not qualify.richmond-nscs-c1626_startrow-9-9-16