HOMESTEAD, Fla. – Denny Hamlin may have been eliminated from the Championship 4, but he still can make some noise.
Hamlin knocked title favorite Martin Truex Jr. out of the top spot in knockout qualifying Friday night and will start from the pole for Sunday’s Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
“We had them there by a little bit,” Hamlin said. “I messed up three and four a little bit. Honestly, it was a great run and we did great adjustments there. Our FedEx Camry was obviously very fast that last run. I love this race track and wish we would have our chance, but that will be another day, another year for us.”
Truex led the first two rounds, and had the provisional pole until Hamlin put down his pole winning lap 31.038 seconds, 173.980 mph around the 1.5 mile speedway with under a minute to go. It was Hamlin’s second pole of Homestead, his second of 2017, and the 29th of his career.
“We had a good practice today,” Hamlin said. “We came here and tested and our FedEx Camry was very fast in the test. We knew that we were going to have a chance as soon as it became nighttime. The track came to us a little bit and we had just enough.”
After taking the first two rounds somewhat handily, Truex was able to console himself of losing the pole as he was the highest runner among the Championship 4.
“That was a bit dramatic,” Truex joked. “We missed it a little bit that last round and lost more grip than I anticipated. We made some adjustments and knew it was going to go that way, but just not far enough. I can’t say enough about this group, just a really strong day – five one-thousandths away from it being a perfect day. Just proud of everyone and they did what they needed to do today and we’ll get to work tomorrow.”
Championship contender Kyle Busch will start third, Matt Kenseth in perhaps his final race fourth.
“Definitely touched the apron there in (turn) one,” Busch said. “I tried to get in there and get to the bottom quicker so I could get the gas quicker and I just touched the apron a little bit and it kind of shot me off the bottom some so gave up some over there and then tried to make it back up in three and four and kind of overdid three and four. But, still not a bad lap. Definitely was pole worthy though so I hate it that we weren’t able to get the number one pit stall. I felt like that was a great opportunity. I felt like when (Martin) Truex (Jr.) ran the .043 that there was a shot out there for a 90-something. That’s kind of what I was shooting for. I was trying to find that 90 and being able to be number one.”
Championship contender Brad Keselowski, who was nearly eliminated in the second round starting fifth.
“A decent effort position-wise,” Keselowski said. “These races are so long that where you start is not always super important, but getting a decent pit selection, as qualifying does for you, is not a bad thing. There’s about half a dozen good pit stalls, and we’ll be able to get one of those.”
The fourth Championship contender, Kevin Harvick will start ninth behind Ricky Stenhouse Jr. in sixth, Kyle Larson in seventh and Kurt Busch in eighth. Daniel Suarez and Ryan Blaney round out the top 10.
In a somewhat controversial strategy, Dale Earnhardt Jr., in his final race as a full time Cup driver advanced to the second round, but went no further as his team had changed an engine earlier in the day and will start from the rear of the field Sunday.
“We feel like we got a short hand dealt to us today because of the engine issues,” Earnhardt said. “I didn’t get to practice a lot, so anxious to get some time tomorrow with the car so we can really start to work on the balance. So, I think we got some things we can do to get the car running a little bit better.”
The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Ford EcoBoost 400 will get the green flag just after 3:00 p.m. ET Sunday with live coverage on NBC.