Denny Hamlin wins Pole at Nashville

LEBANON, TENNESSEE - JUNE 29: Denny Hamlin, driver of the #11 FedEx Toyota, poses for photos after winning the pole award during qualifying for the NASCAR Cup Series Ally 400 at Nashville Superspeedway on June 29, 2024 in Lebanon, Tennessee. (Photo by James Gilbert/Getty Images)

Denny Hamlin claimed his second pole position of the season and 42nd of his decorated career Saturday afternoon just bettering his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Christopher Bell to earn the top starting position for Sunday’s Ally 400 at Nashville Superspeedway (3:30 p.m. ET, NBC, PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).

Hamlin’s No. 11 JGR Toyota turned a fast lap of 160.354 mph (29.859-seconds) around the 1.333-mile oval – only .095-second fastest than Bell – to claim his second Nashville pole position in the four races the track has hosted.

“Felt pretty good about it all day,’’ the 43-year-old Hamlin said, “seems like we definitely have fixed some of the things we weren’t very good with last year.

“I definitely feel pretty good about it and we’ll certainly work on it overnight to make it a little bit better and I feel pretty confident that tomorrow we’ll be in contention,” he added.”

With a new format to set the starting grid, it puts the pole winner in position one and divides the remaining drivers through first five rows by speed and qualifying group, so Stewart-Haas Racing’s Josh Berry – who was third quickest – will start his No. 4 Ford on the outside of the front row Sunday. Bell will start third.

Hamlin is hoping the good start position will translate into a solid finishing position. The three-race winner this season has finished 24th or worse in the last three races and is ready to get back on track before the summer break in competition in three weeks. Hamlin has a pair of top-10 finishes in the three-race Nashville Superspeedway history, including a best showing of third place last year.

Bell will start on the second row alongside Hendrick Motorsports’ Kyle Larson, who co-leads the NASCAR Cup Series championship standings with his Hendrick teammate Chase Elliott and was fastest in the Group A first round qualifiers.

Roush Fenway Keselowski owner/driver Brad Keselowski will start alongside 23XI Racing’s Tyler Reddick on row three with Hendrick Motorsports’ William Byron and Joe Gibbs Racing’s Ty Gibbs on the fourth row and RFK Racing’s Chris Buescher and Team Penske’s Austin Cindric starting their Fords on row five. It’s the best start for Buescher in the last six weeks.

Defending race winner Ross Chastain will roll off 20th. Elliott will start 13th.

Gibbs (159.287 mph), Ryan Blaney, Bubba Wallace and Chastain were fastest in Saturday’s practice session.

Heat Wave

Temperatures in the Nashville area have been in the high 90s this week with “feels like” marks well above 100 degrees with a heat advisory issued for the region. Drivers and teams concede it’s the hottest NASCAR race weekend so far, but their concerns are as much for the fans in the grandstands as for themselves. The drivers say they try to always be ready for conditions like this.

“Just a lot of preparation during the week, I’m sure everyone trains a little differently hydrating, training, all the things you think your body needs to do better,’’ Hendrick Motorsports’ driver William Byron said of the weather.

“It’ll be a true test for all of us. I think the weather backs off a little tomorrow and won’t be as bad as today, but you have to do a good job internally to manage that stress and make sure you’re able to make good decisions through the heat.’’