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Hamlin Takes Pole Spot At Auto Club Speedway

| , RacinToday.com Friday, March 23 2012

Denny Hamlin on pole in Fontana. (RacinToday/HHP file photo by Sharon Ellman)

Denny Hamlin of Joe Gibbs Racing won the pole for Sunday’s Sprint Cup Series race at Auto Club Speedway on Friday afternoon.

Hamlin’s fast lap was at 185.403 mph. It gave him his 10th career pole.

Second was Hamlin’s teammate, Kyle Busch, who turned his fast lap at 185.534 mph in his Toyota Camry.

“It was really a good day all around for us,” Hamlin said. “We obviously showed some pretty good speed in the first practice. Even in race trim, it put us in the top-five. I knew once we got to qualifying we’d have a strong car. It was a good draw for us to get the late draw by being fast in practice. Our FedEx Camry was extremely fast today. That’s all you can say about it — it’s good for one lap. We’ll work on 500 miles tomorrow.”

Third was Mark Martin in the No. 55 Michael Waltrip Racing Camry.

Fourth was Greg Biffle in a Roush Fenway Racing Ford. Fifth was Kasey Kahne of Hendrick Motorsports in a Chevrolet.

“We’ve got a really, really fast car, so that’s good,” Biffle said. “That will be good. I’ve got a lot of confidence going into the race this weekend with a car we know is faster than what it qualified already, so we’re pretty happy.”

Rounding out the top 10 were  Ryan Newman, Kevin Harvick, Joey Logano, Tony Stewart and Jimmie Johnson.

The qualifying session was marked by high winds in the Fontana area. Some drivers said those winds affected their times.

“It was different,” Hamlin said. “You could feel it for sure. My crew chief (Darian Grubb) told me beforehand that there’s a headwind going off turn two. The only downside to running the high line it looked like you had more headwind for a longer amount of time, so that’s why I chose to run the bottom. It seemed like you could cut off a little distance because of the headwind and it seemed like everything worked out in our favor. It buffered the car around a little bit but didn’t change too much with our lap.”

Also coming into play were decisions on what lines to take during the qualifying session.

Hamlin took the low road.

“Everyone had a different way of doing it,” he said. “It seemed like there were some guys that were five lanes up and some that worked there way down. We were one of the few cars that ran all the way on the bottom. For whatever reason, that’s where we practiced and I didn’t want to change that. I’ve done all my qualifying runs early in the day and practice race runs on the bottom. Really, I think I would have been less efficient running the top even though it might have been faster. My safest route was to take the bottom and take what it gave us.”

Teammate Busch took the high road.

“Well, he (Joey Logano) made it work for him and everybody else since has followed what he did,” Busch said. “So, I did the same thing and I felt like our car was pretty decent. Just missed a little bit down in (turns) one and two. Maybe drove it in there a little too far. But, when I got back to it I could commit to it really well.”

Brad Keselowski, the winner of last weekend’s race at Bristol Motor Speedway, qualified 17th.

“Obviously,” Keselowski, said, “Fontana is a lot different than Bristol and even though we ran well last weekend, we have to prove it again here at Fontana. Our Miller Lite Dodge is pretty good, but we could still use some speed. This is a tricky place and you have to commit to the line that you’re going to run when you start your lap. There are three different lines that you can run on this track and you have to pick the one that best fits your car. We’ve got some work to do. We were strong in practice and just missed on our qualifying lap.”

Robby Gordon, Joe Nemechek and rookie Timmy Hill failed to qualify for the 43-car field. Nemechek had not missed a Sprint Cup event since failing to qualifying at Phoenix in November 2010. Friday’s DNQ broke a string of 41 straight successful attempts.

| , RacinToday.com Friday, March 23 2012
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