FONTANA, Calif. — Denny Hamlin went low when most drivers went high at Auto Club Speedway, and he ended up on the pole for Sunday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race.
Hamlin won his 10th career pole in qualifying Friday, and Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Kyle Busch from Las Vegas joined him in the front row.
Hamlin turned a lap of 186.403 mph in his Toyota by picking a lower line than Busch and most of their competitors. Mark Martin, who qualified third in a Toyota for Michael Waltrip Racing, went down the middle.
"Everyone had a different way of doing it," Hamlin said. "It seemed like there were some guys that were five lanes up, and some that worked their way down. We were one of the few cars that ran all the way on the bottom."
Hamlin earned his first top-10 start of the season, along with qualification for next year’s Shootout at Daytona. Hamlin, who previously won the pole at Fontana in October 2009, welcomed the strong start after winning once last season and changing crew chiefs.
"Even though we’ve ran sub-par these last couple weeks, everyone is still in a good mood and still happy about where we’re at and where we’re heading," Hamlin said.
Busch and Martin finished with the same time and speed, but Busch took the tiebreaker based on owners’ points. Busch hopes the strong lap leads to better results after his own slow start to the season.
"It’s cool to have our teammate right up there with us to sit on the front row, so hopefully we can stay there," said Busch, who finished 32nd at Bristol last week. "It hasn’t just been last week. It’s been this whole year so far. We just haven’t quite got our stride yet."
Points leader Greg Biffle was fourth in his Roush Fenway Racing Ford, and Kasey Kahne was fifth in his Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet. Ryan Newman was sixth, followed by Kevin Harvick, Joey Logano, Tony Stewart and Jimmie Johnson.