Denny Hamlin beat out all four championship contenders in qualifying on Friday and will start from the pole. With a lap of 176.655 mph, the No. 11 will start up front at one of his better race tracks.
The FedEx Camry took a unique approach to his qualifying lap in Round Three. He ran low in Turns 1 and 2, while running up near the wall in Turns 3 and 4 and it was the run off of Turn 4 that edged him over Joey Logano. This is Hamlin’s first career pole at the 1.5-mile track and will look to keep his No. 11 up front all day on Sunday.
“Our car has been really fast all day,” Hamlin said of his pole winning lap. “I’m very encouraged with what we have seen thus far with our FedEx Ground Toyota. Everything is going good. I’m certainly optimistic that we are going to have a good day on Sunday.”
Hamlin has always run well in south Florida. He has two-career wins at Homestead and will look to pick up a third on Sunday, and hopes that his teammate Kyle Busch can finish a close second propelling him to his first championship.
Alongside Hamlin is the aforementioned Logano. The No. 22 was quickest in the second round of qualifying by over a tenth and-a-half. However, came up just short of snatching his seventh pole of 2016.
After competing for a championship in 2014, Logano looked to be in a prime position this season to advance to Homestead until the Eliminator Round of the Chase. After tangling with Matt Kenseth at Martinsville and a flat tire at Texas, Logano failed to win Phoenix and was not able to advance to Homestead. He would love to spoil the championship party by winning on Sunday.
“We all know who the top-four are competing for a championship,” Logano said after how he is going to race the championship contenders. “You race them with the upmost respect like normal. At the same time we’re out there still with something to race for. We all want to win a race as well.”
Busch will start third on Sunday, the highest of all four drivers contending for the championship. While starting third, he has the mental edge on his closest three competitors.
Statistically, the Las Vegas native has not performed all that well at Homestead. The driver of the No. 18 has just one top-five and three top 10 finishes at the track. Throw out those stats because Busch will more than likely need to win on Sunday to pick up his first championship.
“That’s a really good for this M&M’s Crispy Camry,” Busch said. “Adam and the boys did a really good job at getting a good estimation going for us in qualifying and proud of the No. 11. That’s some good company to follow with the No. 11 on the pole.”
Jeff Gordon will start fifth in his final start in the Cup Series at Homestead. Battling for the championship can be stressful in itself, but Gordon had to overcome a poor qualifying effort in the first round of qualifying to advance into Round 2. In his second run he was able to slot the No. 24 into the 18th position.
With an extra lap on his tires than everyone else in Round 2, Gordon was able to place into sixth to advance into the final round. Then in his final round of qualifying in his career, Gordon was able to put the No. 24 into the fifth position and will have a good starting position when the green flag flies.
“That was a heck of an effort by this race team,” Gordon said. “We’ve got a great racecar. I just totally messed up. That first run, without making a qualifying run in practice I just didn’t know how hard I could push and how much the track had picked up. I hate we had to put an extra lap on those tires because I really feel like we would have had a shot at this thing.”
Martin Truex, Jr. will start 11th on Sunday and third out of the championship contenders. The so called underdog out of the four contenders was able to maintain his speed in each of the three rounds on Friday.
Truex is coming to one of his best race tracks in the most important race of his life. The New Jersey native will need to run up front for the majority of the race to have a shot to win, but isn’t worried about qualifying outside of the top 10.
“We qualified 24th or something at Texas, 25th something like that and drove to the front,” Truex said. Qualifying hasn’t really been our strong suit on these types of race tracks and we tried hard today, we fought hard, but just couldn’t quite get it where we needed it.”
The final championship-eligible driver will start from 13th on Sunday. Kevin Harvick was the only one of the championship contenders that did have enough speed in Round 2 to make it into the final round of qualifying.
Harvick has an average starting position of 6.8 in the Chase, but won from 15th at Dover when qualifying was rained out. The defending champion was quickest by nearly two tenths of a second in the opening round of qualifying, but lost speed in the second round. For the No. 4 team qualifying isn’t the most important part of the weekend.
“The first run the balance was good, we didn’t have any issues,” Harvick said. “In the second run I was good coming to the green and good through (Turns) 3 and 4, just extremely tight to the center in Turn 1 toward the center of 2. We haven’t qualified as well this year as we did last year. We’ve been more consistent this year, but not with the amount of poles or things we had.”
Other drivers with good qualifying runs include Ryan Newman (fourth), Ryan Blaney (sixth), and Austin Dillon (tenth).
The championship four will have Saturday to prepare for the championship race on Sunday. With so many storylines heading into the actual race, it will be crucial for these four teams to have good practice sessions and trying to make a statement heading into Sunday.
With a track that had an old racing surface, tire management will be a key to win the race and the championship. Homestead is always one of the most intriguing races of the year.