On his final attempt late in Saturday’s final round of time trials, Denny Hamlin knocked three-time Australian SuperCars champion Shane Van Gisbergen off the provisional pole for the first-ever street course race in NASCAR Cup Series history.
Speeding around the 2.2-mile, 12-turn Chicago Street Course in 88.435 seconds (89.557 mph) in his No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota, Hamlin earned the right to lead the field to the green flag in Sunday’s Grant Park 220 (5 p.m. ET on NBC, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).
“It’s a lot of fun when you can have days like today,” said Hamlin, who claimed his third Busch Light Pole Award of the season and the 39th of his career. “Obviously, our Yahoo Camry is just super-strong. I like where we’re at.”
Running behind Hamlin on his final attempt, Tyler Reddick, who drivers for Hamlin and former NBA superstar Michael Jordan at 23XI Racing, earned the second starting spot at 89.513 mph (88.479 seconds).
Van Gisbergen qualified third at 89.305 mph, followed by Christopher Bell (88.765 mph) and Daniel Suarez (88.668 mph).
For a race where track position is certain to be a major issue, Michael McDowell will start sixth, followed by Kyle Larson, former Formula 1 champion Jenson Button, Joey Logano and AJ Allmendinger.
Van Gisbergen survived a pressure situation just to make the final round. Like a pole vaulter who passes until the height reaches 18 feet, he didn’t start his first-round lap until fewer than six minutes remained in the session.
As Van Gisbergen started his first attempt, Chase Elliott stayed close behind the New Zealander, maintaining a strong pace of his own until the entry to the Carousel (Turns 8 and 9). Elliott missed the corner and slammed nose-first into one of the 10,000-pound concrete barriers where the course transitions from the southbound lane of Michigan Ave.
“I just made a mistake,” Elliott said. “Turned in too soon, clipped the will on the right and then hit the wall on the left.”
NASCAR red-flagged the session with 3 minutes 33 seconds left, nullifying Van Gisbergen’s lap. But the Kiwi had time to run another lap and was second to Hamlin in the Group B session of Round 1.
Elliott will have to start from the rear of the field, where he’ll be joined by Kevin Harvick, who crashed in Turn 1, knocking two barriers out of position, as time expired in the round.
“We were going to be back there anyway,” said Harvick, who was slow in both practice and qualifying.