Denny Hamlin leads Toyota stampede in Coca-Cola 600 qualifying

CONCORD, NORTH CAROLINA - MAY 28: Denny Hamlin, driver of the #11 FedEx Ground Toyota, drives during practice for the NASCAR Cup Series Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway on May 28, 2022 in Concord, North Carolina. (Photo by Buda Mendes/Getty Images)

By the slimmest of margins, Denny Hamlin beat a car he owns for the Busch Light pole position in Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

In the final round of time trials of Saturday evening, Hamlin ran a lower line through Turns 3 and 4 than did his fellow competitors, and that paid off with a blistering lap of 29.399 seconds (183.680 mph)—just .003 seconds faster than that of Kurt Busch (183.661 mph) who drives the No. 45 23XI Toyota co-owned by Hamlin and NBA legend Michael Jordan.

Hamlin’s Joe Gibbs Racing teammate, Christopher Bell, qualified third at 183.655 mph (just .001 seconds slower than Busch), and teammate Kyle Busch followed at 183.505 mph, as Toyota drivers swept the top four grid positions in NASCAR Cup Series qualifying for the first time since the 2017 season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

“I had reps down there, so I kind of knew what I needed for my car,” Hamlin said of the line he ran. “I just thought—forward thinking—that this track was going to get a little better (in terms of grip), and certainly we would want to cut the most distance we could off, if the track continued to grip up.”

Hamlin has never won a Cup race at Charlotte. If he does so on Sunday, he’ll become the second active driver to win all three of NASCAR’s Crown Jewel races—the Daytona 500 (which he has won three times), the Southern 500 and the Coca-Cola 600. Kevin Harvick is the only active driver to accomplish that feat.

“I’ve had such fast cars here and such crazy luck that I’ve had here over the years,” Hamlin said. “Mistakes that I’ve made that kept us from winning. I just really want to get this one, especially since I’ve been a Coke partner for all 18 years or whatever of my career.”

William Byron qualified fifth in the fastest Chevrolet, with Austin Cindric following in sixth in the quickest Ford. Kurt Busch’s 23XI teammate, Bubba Wallace claimed the seventh spot on the grid, followed by Tyler Reddick, Alex Bowman and Michael McDowell.

Defending race winner Kyle Larson smacked the outside wall in Saturday’s practice and did not make a qualifying run, as his team attempted to repair the No. 5 Chevrolet. Larson will start from the rear on Sunday.

Brad Keselowski spun off Turn 4 in the first-round qualifying lap and likewise will take the green flag from the back of the pack.

Photos: NASCAR at Charlotte Motor Speedway Saturday May 28, 2022

NASCAR Cup Series Qualifying Results COCA-COLA 600
Charlotte Motor Speedway
Concord, North Carolina
Saturday, May 28, 2022

1. (11) Denny Hamlin, Toyota, 183.680 mph.

2. (45) Kurt Busch, Toyota, 183.661 mph.

3. (20) Christopher Bell, Toyota, 183.655 mph.

4. (18) Kyle Busch, Toyota, 183.505 mph.

5. (24) William Byron, Chevrolet, 182.927 mph.

6. (2) Austin Cindric #, Ford, 182.303 mph.

7. (23) Bubba Wallace, Toyota, 182.291 mph.

8. (8) Tyler Reddick, Chevrolet, 182.199 mph.

9. (48) Alex Bowman, Chevrolet, 182.168 mph.

10. (34) Michael McDowell, Ford, 181.087 mph.

11. (12) Ryan Blaney, Ford, 0.000 mph.

12. (99) Daniel Suarez, Chevrolet, 0.000 mph.

13. (9) Chase Elliott, Chevrolet, 0.000 mph.

14. (19) Martin Truex Jr., Toyota, 0.000 mph.

15. (14) Chase Briscoe, Ford, 0.000 mph.

16. (3) Austin Dillon, Chevrolet, 0.000 mph.

17. (21) Harrison Burton #, Ford, 0.000 mph.

18. (4) Kevin Harvick, Ford, 0.000 mph.

19. (17) Chris Buescher, Ford, 0.000 mph.

20. (31) Justin Haley, Chevrolet, 0.000 mph.

21. (41) Cole Custer, Ford, 0.000 mph.

22. (1) Ross Chastain, Chevrolet, 0.000 mph.

23. (22) Joey Logano, Ford, 0.000 mph.

24. (10) Aric Almirola, Ford, 0.000 mph.

25. (43) Erik Jones, Chevrolet, 0.000 mph.

26. (15) Ryan Preece(i), Ford, 0.000 mph.

27. (16) Noah Gragson(i), Chevrolet, 0.000 mph.

28. (42) Ty Dillon, Chevrolet, 0.000 mph.

29. (47) Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Chevrolet, 0.000 mph.

30. (38) Todd Gilliland #, Ford, 0.000 mph.

31. (78) BJ McLeod, Ford, 0.000 mph.

32. (77) Josh Bilicki(i), Chevrolet, 0.000 mph.

33. (51) Cody Ware, Ford, 0.000 mph.

34. (50) Kaz Grala(i), Chevrolet, 0.000 mph.

35. (6) Brad Keselowski, Ford, 0.000 mph.

36. (5) Kyle Larson, Chevrolet, 0.000 mph.

37. (7) Corey LaJoie, Chevrolet, 0.000 mph.