DOVER, Del. — Call it the power of positive thinking if you want to, but Denny Hamlin would prefer to credit his car and his crew chief, Darian Grubb for Saturday’s pole-winning run.
Hamlin surprised himself by qualifying first for Sunday’s AAA 400 at Dover International Speedway, narrowly edging Clint Bowyer for the top starting spot in the third Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup race.
With advice from sport psychologist Bob Rotella tucked neatly into his subconscious, Hamlin streaked around the Monster Mile in 22.599 seconds (159.299 mph) in Saturday’s time trials to claim his third Coors Light pole award of the season and the 12th of his career. Hamlin was .005 seconds faster than Bowyer, who circled the high-banked concrete track at 159.264 mph.
Martin Truex Jr. (159.200 mph) qualified third as Chase drivers in Toyotas swept the top three spots. Sam Hornish Jr. (158.758 mph) claimed the fourth starting spot, followed by Kyle Busch (158.667 mph).
Hamlin, who has a career average starting position of 14.8 at Dover, and a career average finish of 20.5, overcame his Dover-phobia, but later said the driver was only a quarter of the equation.
“I think probably 75 percent was the car and 25 percent the driver, in that sense,” said Hamlin, who won last Sunday’s Chase race at New Hampshire in dominating fashion. “I think there’s a lot of drivers out there who could be able to do what I do with the cars that Darian’s been giving me these last few weeks.
“So I’m going to give him pretty much all the credit and ride his back as long as it’ll hold me.”
Nevertheless, Hamlin managed to improve his performance dramatically at a track that simply doesn’t mesh with his driving style.
“I typically don’t run as strong on corner entry and use less brake,” Hamlin said. “It’s my M.O., my driving style at a lot of race tracks. Here, it just really rewards driving in hard, using brake and just matting it on exit. I’m typically better at throttle management on exit.
“I just think, for whatever, reason, between that and the concrete that I don’t have that good of a feel for, I just think it’s tough for me to change the way I’ve been driving for 20-some years when I come to this track. I’ve broken down a lot of film over these last few days, obviously to try to get better at it. That’s the only way you can continue to stay on top in this sport is to continue to evolve.”
Chase drivers Greg Biffle and Jeff Gordon qualified sixth and seventh, respectively. The other seven Chase drivers will start as follows: Kasey Kahne, ninth; Brad Keselowski, 10th; points leader Jimmie Johnson, 11th; Matt Kenseth, 12th; Kevin Harvick, 13th; Tony Stewart, 24th; and Dale Earnhardt Jr., 25th.
David Stremme, Mike Bliss, Jason Leffler, Cole Whitt and Kelly Bires failed to make the 43-car field.
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