Hamlin takes Coca-Cola 600 pole with record lap
By STEVE REED
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS | May 24,2013
Denny Hamlin climbs from his car Thursday after qualifying for Sunday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup series Coca-Cola 600 race at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
CONCORD, N.C. — Denny Hamlin isn’t ready to say he’s back, even after winning the pole for Coca-Cola 600 with a record-setting qualifying lap Thursday night.
He said it would take a win Sunday night or at another Sprint Cup race later in the season before he’s willing to make that declaration.
But Hamlin showed he continues to be on the mend after being sidelined for four races with a compression fracture in his lower spine following a March 24 crash involving former teammate Joey Logano.
Two weeks after finishing second at the Darlington 500, Hamlin broke the track record with a lap of 195.624 mph to capture his first pole at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
“Getting the big trophy on Sunday — that is the validation that you are truly back,” Hamlin said.
Hamlin has a far bigger goal in mind anyway.
He and Jimmie Johnson are the only two drivers to make the Chase for the Sprint Cup every year they’ve been eligible.
He wants to keep it that way — and then some.
“It’s going to take wins and consistency throughout the next several months to put ourselves in position to have a chance at a championship,” Hamlin said.
“That is what we’re here for. But these small victories give me confidence I’m still capable and still able to do the job at 100 percent like I should be.”
Four Toyotas will start in the top five. Hamlin will start alongside Kurt Busch on the front row, followed by Matt Kenseth, Mark Martin and Clint Bowyer.
Kasey Kahne will start sixth, Greg Biffle seventh, Kyle Busch eighth, Jamie McMurray ninth and Ryan Newman rounds out the top 10.
Johnson, who won his record fourth Sprint All-Star race on Saturday, will start 12th, one spot behind Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Danica Patrick, who has struggled on the 1.5-mile tracks this season, starts 24th.
It looked like Kurt Busch would take the pole.
But when Hamlin heard Busch say in an interview he missed his marks on turns three and four, he decided to step away from his normally conservative qualifying nature and go for the top spot.
“He made a mistake and I capitalized on it,” Hamlin said.
Hamlin did everything he could to push the envelope.
“Normally I wouldn’t commit myself to running a lap like that — it’s too dangerous,” Hamlin said. “But we have a mission ahead.”
Hamlin, who has never won a Sprint Cup race at CMS, was one of eight drivers to top the previous track record of 193.708 mph set last October by Biffle.
Hamlin said he was sore for about two days after Darlington, but said he’s feeling much better now.
“Everything is good,” Hamlin said.
It is Hamlin’s 14th career pole, including his second this year. The other came at the Auto Club in Fontana.
“How did that turn out? Great race,” Hamlin quipped, referring to the crash with Logano that knocked him out for more than a month.
Despite qualifying second, Kurt Busch believes he still has the car to beat on Sunday after winning two segments at the All-Star race here Saturday night.
“The All-Star race is great, but we can do better,” Busch said. “Our car is so good right now.”
This is the seventh time in 12 races this season that Sprint Cup drivers have posted a new qualifying record.
WEST HAVEN — Saturated grounds and a dismal weather forecast will keep Devil’s Bowl Speedway silent tonight as the People’s United Bank Memorial Day Special stock car event has been washed out.
Details regarding the rescheduling of NASCAR Whelen All-American Series championship races for the track’s Bond Auto Parts Modified, Late Model, Renegade, and Central Vermont Motorcycles Mini Stock divisions will be announced soon. Todd Stone of Middlebury leads the Modified point standings, with Richie Turner of Fairfa on top in the Renegades and Chris LaVair of Gabriels, N.Y., pacing the Mini Stocks; Tonight’s event was scheduled to be the championship opener for the Late Model division.
The Mekkelsen RV Memorial Day Classic at Thunder Road International Speedbowl in Barre is still scheduled for Sunday at 1:30 p.m. as planned. The event hosts the opening rounds for the Vermont State Late Model Championship Series and the new Northern Modified Challenge Series; the Northern Modified Challenge Series event will award 50 bonus points toward the Devil’s Bowl Speedway Modified championship to each participating driver.
Devil’s Bowl Speedway will host the Sports Car Club of Vermont’s first Autocross event of the season on Saturday rain or shine. Registration opens at 8 a.m., with on-track activity scheduled to begin at 10 a.m.; visit www.sccv.org for more information.
The NASCAR Whelen All-American Series returns to Devil’s Bowl Speedway on Friday, May 31 at 7 p.m. as Whelen Engineering presents racing for the Modified, Late Model, and Mini Stock divisions as well as the opening round of the four-race Enduro Series. Enduro rules and entry blanks are available online at www.devilsbowlspeedwayvt.com.
Devil’s Bowl Speedway is located on Route 22A in West Haven, four miles north of Exit 2 on U.S. Route 4. For more information, visit www.devilsbowlspeedwayvt.com or call (802) 265-3112. Devil’s Bowl Speedway is on Facebook at facebook.com/DevilsBowlSpeedway and on Twitter at @DevilsBowlSpeed.