Denny Hamlin wins pole for Drudene 400

Denny Hamlin celebrates his pole victory. (Special to the Delaware State News/Chuck Snyder)

DOVER — Denny Hamlin was concerned his Saturday golf plans with Kyle Larson were going to be delayed.

Larson told Hamlin during the week he thought he was going to win the pole for Sunday’s Drydene 400 at Dover International Speedway. It meant Hamlin would have to wait for Larson before they could leave.

Except on Saturday, Hamlin was the reason their tee-time was later.

Hamlin set a new track record to earn the pole. His lap of 166.984 mph bested Larson who will start second as the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series green flag drops at 2:30 p.m.

I’m so happy I beat him,” Hamlin laughed.

“We were working out our golf plans for the afternoon,” Hamlin said. “I said, ‘What time we leaving?’ And he’s like, ‘Well, I plan on getting the pole so I got to do media so I might be like 15 extra minutes.’ But I got him.”

Pole winner Denny Hamlin pulls into the garage after qualifying. (Special to the Delaware State News/Chuck Snyder)

Hamlin barely held off Larson. His lap was just .003 seconds faster.

“Having him be just a little bit quicker than me is frustrating,” said Larson.

It was the second pole of the season for Hamlin.

He finished the lap in 21.559 which was almost a full mph hire than the previous Monster Mile qualifying record, set by Chase Elliott in the spring (165.960, 21.692).

“That was a really good lap for us,” Hamlin said. “I knew when I ran it, it was solid.”

Three cars — Hamlin, Larson and third-place qualifier Martin Truex Jr. — all ran a faster time than Elliott’s mark from the spring.

It was the fourth career pole for Hamlin at Dover.

Despite that, he’s never won at the Monster Mile in his 27 career Cup starts. He has four top-five finishes at Dover yet thinks today might be his best one yet.

“This is probably as optimistic as I’ve ever been going into a Dover race,” Hamlin said. “Simply because we’ve really devoted a lot of time to improving my technique around here. It just seems like in practice I’m really comfortable in the car and that’s not my usual MO here.”

“Even though I’ve had past stumbles here and it hasn’t technically been my best track, we know we are fully capable of winning at an race track,” Hamlin added. “It doesn’t matter what the past history is.”

Today is also Hamlin’s 500th career start in the Cup Series.

Kevin Harvick will start fourth, Chase Elliott fifth and William Byron sixth. The top-six are all still alive in the NASCAR playoffs, today’s race is the first of the second segment and 12 drivers remain in the playoff field.

Ryan Blaney will start 10th, Alex Bowman 12, Joey Logano 14th, Brad Keselowski 16th and Clint Bowyer 17th. Kyle Busch rounds out the playoff drivers with an 18th-place starting position.

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