Denny Hamlin steals Homestead pole from Championship 4 drivers

HOMESTEAD, Fla. – Three of the four Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Championship 4 drivers qualified near the top of the board in Friday’s knockout time trials at Homestead-Miami Speedway, but Denny Hamlin, who has his own agenda, stole the pole for Sunday’s Ford EcoBoost 400 (at 3 p.m. ET on NBC, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio Channel 90).

Trying to extend his streak of winning at least one race per season to 13 consecutive years, Hamlin streaked around the 1.5-mile track in 31.059 seconds (173.863 mph) to secure the top starting spot in the race that will determine the series champion.

Hamlin edged Joe Gibbs Racing teammate and Championship 4 competitor Kyle Busch (173.622 mph) by .043 seconds in the money round. Future JGR teammate and reigning series champion Martin Truex Jr., qualified third at 173.539 mph.

Playoff driver Joey Logano was fifth fastest in the No. 22 Team Penske Ford at 173.366 mph. Fellow title contender Kevin Harvick fought a tight-handling No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford to a 12th-place run in the final round of qualifying.

Hamlin has more than his streak of winning seasons on the line. He revealed via Twitter on Friday that Mike “Wheels” will no longer be his crew chief after Sunday’s race. No replacement has been named. Hamlin hopes to duplicate his performance from five years ago when he won at Homestead for his only victory of the season.

“It’s big for us to get this race team up front here,” said Hamlin, who won his fourth pole of the season, his third at Homestead (and second in a row). “We definitely want to end on a high note and try to win. In 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.

“We’re going to keep digging. Hats off to this team. We were hanging around that seventh to 10th the first couple of rounds and they just… “Wheels” made the right adjustments.”

Busch was pleased with his qualifying effort, even though it fell just short.

“Not too bad, wish we had a little bit more there obviously to get the number one pit box,” Busch said. “Two years in a row, Denny has been able to figure that last run out. Just see what happens tomorrow.”

Where Harvick’s car was too tight in the final round, Truex’s was too loose.

“We were a little too free on that final run,” Truex said. “I tried to gain a little bit more but I just couldn’t quite finish getting the throttle down and I think I lost a little bit there. It was a good day. Great effort by the guys. Nice, smooth solid day, which is what we needed. We go win this thing from there and we’ll get to work tomorrow.”

There was speculation after qualifying that Hamlin might cede the coveted No. 1 pit stall to Busch, but Hamlin didn’t seem enthused about the prospect. He was more concerned with keeping every advantage that might help him preserve his streak.

“I sure don’t want to break that streak,” Hamlin said. “I hope Kyle finishes second.”

Notes: Jimmie Johnson qualified 19th for what will be his final race with crew chief Chad Knaus after 17 seasons together… Jamie McMurray will start 21st for his final event in the No. 1 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet, a race that may be his last in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series… Matt Kenseth earned the 17th starting position for his final race in the No. 6 Roush Fenway Racing Ford.

— NASCAR Wire Service —