DOVER, Del. — Call it the power of positive thinking if you want, but Denny Hamlin would prefer to credit his car and his crew chief, Darian Grubb for Saturday’s pole-winning run.
Hamlin surprised himself by qualifying first for Sunday’s AAA 400 at Dover International Speedway, narrowly edging Clint Bowyer for the top starting spot in the third Chase for the Sprint Cup race.
M. Truex Jr.
S. Hornish Jr.
With advice from sport psychologist Bob Rotella tucked neatly into his subconscious, Hamlin streaked around the Monster Mile in 22.599 seconds (159.299 mph) in Saturday’s time trials. That helped him claim his third Coors Light Pole Award of the season and the 12th of his career. Hamlin was 0.005 seconds faster than Bowyer, who circled the high-banked concrete track at 159.264 mph.
Hamlin, who has a career average starting position of 14.8 at Dover and a career average finish of 20.5, overcame his Dover-phobia. He later said it was more car than driver in the pole-winning equation.
“I think probably 75 percent was the car and 25 percent the driver, in that sense,” said Hamlin, who won last Sunday’s Chase race at New Hampshire in dominating fashion. “I think there’s a lot of drivers out there who could be able to do what I do with the cars that Darian’s been giving me these last few weeks.
“So I’m going to give him pretty much all the credit and ride his back as long as it’ll hold me.”
Nevertheless, Hamlin managed to improve his performance dramatically at a track that simply doesn’t mesh with his driving style.
“I typically don’t run as strong on corner entry and use less brake,” Hamlin said. “It’s my M.O., my driving style at a lot of race tracks. Here, it just really rewards driving in hard, using brake and just matting it on exit. I’m typically better at throttle management on exit.
“I just think, for whatever reason — between that and the concrete that I don’t have that good of a feel for — I just think it’s tough for me to change the way I’ve been driving for 20-some years when I come to this track. I’ve broken down a lot of film over these last few days, obviously to try to get better at it. That’s the only way you can continue to stay on top in this sport is to continue to evolve.”
Chase drivers Greg Biffle and Jeff Gordon qualified sixth and seventh, respectively. The other seven Chase drivers will start as follows: Kasey Kahne, ninth; Brad Keselowski, 10th; points leader Jimmie Johnson, 11th; Matt Kenseth, 12th; Kevin Harvick, 13th; Tony Stewart, 24th; and Dale Earnhardt Jr., 25th.
• Denny Hamlin won his 12th career pole and first at Dover.
• It’s Denny Hamlin’s third pole of 2012, trailing on Mark Martin (4).
• Denny Hamlin went out 46th of 48 drivers, making him the last of six drivers on pole.
• It’s the 59th pole for Joe Gibbs Racing and fifth of 2012 (tied for second-most).
• Clint Bowyer (second) earned best Dover start in his 14th race, best start of the season.
• Martin Truex Jr (third) got best start since his pole at Texas in April.
• Sam Hornish Jr (fourth) has best start of the season, best Dover start in seven races.
• Kyle Busch (fifth) grabbed eighth top-10 start at Dover in 16 races.
• Jimmie Johnson (11th) is one of five Chase drivers that will start outside top 10.
• Failed to qualify: Kelly Bires, Mike Bliss, Jason Leffler, David Stremme, Cole Whitt.
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