Despite back problems, Denny Hamlin has become a qualifying ace

MARTINSVILLE, VA - OCTOBER 26:  Denny Hamlin, driver of the #11 FedEx One Rate Toyota, stands in the garage area during practice for the Goody's Headache Relief Shot 500 Powered By Kroger at Martinsville Speedway on October 26, 2013 in Martinsville, Virginia.  (Photo by Jerry Markland/Getty Images)

MARTINSVILLE, VA – OCTOBER 26: Denny Hamlin, driver of the #11 FedEx One Rate Toyota, stands in the garage area during practice for the Goody’s Headache Relief Shot 500 Powered By Kroger at Martinsville Speedway on October 26, 2013 in Martinsville, Virginia. (Photo by Jerry Markland/Getty Images)

MARTINSVILLE, Va. – How has Denny Hamlin suddenly become so adept at qualifying?

Even the driver himself was at a loss to explain.

The fact remains, though, that in a year fraught with difficulty for the 32-year-old Joe Gibbs Racing driver, time trials have been the highlight of an otherwise frustrating season.

Despite missing four races after suffering a compression fracture of his first lumbar vertebra at Fontana, Calif., in late March, Hamlin has won five Coors Light pole awards in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series this season, a high-water mark for a single season.

On Friday afternoon at Martinsville Speedway, Hamlin not only grabbed the top qualifying spot for the Goody’s Headache Relief Shot 500 on Sunday, but he also won the pole for Saturday’s Kroger 200 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race at the .526-mile short track.

The Truck Series pole was Hamlin’s first in 16 attempts.

So why the sudden prowess on qualifying days?

“I can just hold on for one lap–that’s all I’ve been able to do all year,” Hamlin told the NASCAR Wire Service after Friday’s Truck Series time trials. “I don’t know why we’ve qualified so well this year, honestly.

“I can understand this weekend in particular, because we really put a big emphasis on this race on the Cup side, but like Charlotte and Bristol and those poles (after returning from his injury), they kind of caught us off guard. Not sure what it is.

“Typically, my style of driving doesn’t lend itself to running one fast lap, but it’s been good enough five times, so I guess I have to go to Vegas.”

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