Denny Hamlin snatches pole at Homestead

HOMESTEAD, FL - NOVEMBER 16: Denny Hamlin, driver of the #11 FedEx Express Toyota, poses with the poll award after qualifying for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on November 16, 2018 in Homestead, Florida. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

Friday afternoon, Denny Hamlin posted on social media that Sunday’s Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race would not just be the last race of the season, but the final one with his crew chief Mike Wheeler.

Later Friday night, Hamlin gave his outgoing crew chief the pole for Sunday’s NASCAR Cup EcoBoost 400.  It was his third at Homestead in the last four years and his fourth of the season.  His lap of 173.622 near the end of the final five-minute round best his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate and Championship 4 contender Kyle Busch.

The news of his departing crew chief and the pole win briefly turned the attention away from the Championship 4 contenders.

“It’s big for us to get this race team up front here,” Hamlin said. “We definitely want to end on a high note and try to win. 2013 we were in the same predicament where we hadn’t won a race until the final race and we got it done, so hopefully it’s our time to do it.”

Those 4 were able to advance to the final round; Behind Busch, who won round 1 and will start second, Martin Truex Jr. third, Joey Logano fifth and Kevin Harvick 12th.

Hamlin is winless this season and in danger of breaking a streak of winning at least one race every season since his debut with Joe Gibbs Racing in 2004.  Wheeler became Hamlin’s crew chief in 2014. Together the two have won five races in 111 starts, a record that includes winning the 2016 Daytona 500.

“We’re going to keep digging,” Hamlin said. “Hats off to this team. We were hanging around that seventh to tenth the first couple of rounds and they just – (Mike) “Wheels” (Wheeler, crew chief) made the right adjustments.”

Among the non-contenders, Brad Keselowski starts fourth, Kurt Busch sixth, Erik Jones, who led round 2, seventh, Ryan Newman eighth with Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Aric Almirola, and Kyle Larson grabbing spots 9-11.