NASCAR: Hamlin’s road to recovery includes record-setting pole at Charlotte
CONCORD, N.C. – Denny Hamlin’s difficult, if not improbable, climb to qualify for the Chase for the Championship as a wild card entry got a lift Thursday when he won the pole for the Coca-Cola 600.
After missing four races with a broken back, Hamlin not only turned the fastest lap at the Charlotte Motor Speedway, he shattered the track record at 195.624 mph.
The only way Hamlin can get into the playoffs is to win a race or two in the next 15 events and finish among the top 20 in the point standings.
“We have a mission ahead and that’s making the Chase,” Hamlin said. “You have to have every advantage you can. Hopefully his is a good sign of things to come. Any confidence booster for me is a positive step.”
He is 26th in the current standings heading into Sunday’s 600-mile marathon. More important, he’s 61 points from the top 20.
A possible victory – and a jet-fast No. 11 Toyota – would go a long way to getting Hamlin back into contention.
While NASCAR’s new Generation-6 race car has yet to produce a lot of side-by-side racing as hoped, it has proven to be fast. Hamlin’s record was the seventh record set this year in 10 qualifying sessions this year. Two other time trials this year were rained out.
Eight of 44 drivers broke Greg Biffle’s eight-month-old track record of 192.708 mph.
“You hear a lot of drivers talk about the commitment level,” Hamlin said. “You still have to have a fast car. It takes so much nerve to do that. Proud to be back on the race track. We’re getting things going right now. This is like a victory for me.”
Kurt Busch set the tone early with a lap of 195.221 mph that had everyone on pit road wondering just how much the record would fall. Busch wound up second.
“I didn’t do my job,” Busch said. “That shows how much these guys are doing their job here. They keep bringing new pieces every week. I left some speed out there.”
Busch said he didn’t attack the third and fourth turns as hard as he could.
Matt Kenseth was third at 195.094 mph, followed by Mark Martin in fourth, Clint Bowyer in fifth, Kasey Kahne in sixth, Biffle in seventh, Kyle Busch in eighth, Jamie McMurray in ninth and Ryan Newman in 10th.
“That ain’t even close,” Martin said. “I knew it was fast, but it wasn’t even close.”
“There was no screwing up anywhere for me,” Biffle said. “That was all the speed we had.”
DRAG RACING CHAMPION TO TURN LEFT: Defending NHRA Top Fuel champion Antron Brown will make left turns Tuesday when he tests a NASCAR K&N Series Toyota stock car at Motor Miles Speedway in Radford, Va.
As a payback, stock car driver Clint Bowyer will make a 1,000-foot pass in Brown’s dragster.
“We’re going to take it one step at a time and after this weekend here we can grow from it when we go testing in Virginia,” Brown said Thursday at the Charlotte Motor Speedway. “We’re going to shoot for that first and then we’ll take it one step at a time.”
Until he completes the test and gets a sense for the differences in the cars, Brown isn’t ready to commit to anything outside his full-time job with Don Schumacher Racing in the NHRA.
Brown, who generally surpasses the 315 mph barrier on a single pass, said he still will be apprehensive about driving 100 mph in a stock car.
“Racing is never slow, it doesn’t make a difference what it is,” he said. “I never thought of racing as being a certain speed. I always thought about it as being competitive – side-by-side, and that’s the part that drives any racer.”