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Hamlin Survives Engine Woes To Win Pole

Info Manager | , RacinToday.com Saturday, March 23 2013

Denny Hamlin will start from the pole in Fontana on Sunday. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Harold Hinson)

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Denny Hamlin edged Greg Biffle and Brad Keselowski for the top starting spot in Sunday’s Auto Club 400 at Auto Club Speedway.

Biffle and Keselowski, however, will start the race from the back of the field as they were forced to change engines before the qualifying session.

Overcoming an early draw, Hamlin toured the two-mile track in 38.410 seconds (187.451 mph) to win the 13th Coors Light pole award of his career and his third at Fontana.

Biffle (187.217 mph) was second fastest, and Keselowski, the defending NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion and current points leader, ran third at 187.149 mph.

Both Biffle and Keselowski use Roush Yates  engines.

Kyle Busch and Matt Kenseth, Hamlin’s teammates at Joe Gibbs Racing, qualified fourth and fifth, respectively. Joey Logano, Keselowski’s teammate, claimed the sixth starting position but will move closer to the front of the field – and to Hamlin, his nemesis from last Sunday’s race at Bristol – when Biffle and Keselowski drop to the rear.

Hamlin, the third driver to make a qualifying attempt, felt the quality of his No. 11 Toyota made the difference.

“Honestly, I think our car was really fast,” said Hamlin, who started from the pole at Fontana last year. “I knew, talking to a few people in my motor home… it’s cocky to say, but I said, ‘Man, I can almost guarantee a pole, if we have a late draw.’ When they told me we were third, I was like, ‘OK. Well, just never mind. Forget that.’

“I knew, after running so well here in qualifying before, you kind of get a feel for what you need to do as a driver to hit your points and be fast, and I think our car was just exceptional for a lap or so today.”

Keselowski expressed concern of the engine issues that will send him and Biffle to the back.

“I’m a little bit nervous about the engine issues the 16 (Biffle) and the 2 cars had in practice,” said Keselowski, who has finished in the top five in each of the first four Cup races this season. “Hopefully, those will subside for the race.

“It’s unfortunate, but it’s kind of what it is, and we’ll have a good time, hopefully, racing to the front.”

Biffle said, “I don’t have all the details. They are actually taking the engine apart now. They were going to do it after qualifying. I wish they would have done it right away but maybe I will sleep better tonight finding out what it is. We feel like the issues could be common between the 2 car (Keselowski’s) and my car. I think they are thinking it is the same issue and something mechanical, something parts wise inside the engine at the bottom of the engine I think. I will know and we will know here after we take it apart but right now we are sort of guessing.”

Martin Truex Jr., defending race winner Tony Stewart, Mark Martin and Kurt Busch will start from positions seven through 10 on the grid, respectively. Danica Patrick was 40th fastest during time trials.

Info Manager | , RacinToday.com Saturday, March 23 2013
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