Denny Hamlin enters turn one during a practice lap Friday at Michigan International Speedway. Hamlin qualifed on the pole for Sunday’s Consumers Energy 400 at the 2-mile oval. Eric Young/The SuperSpeedway
BROOKLYN, Mich. — It was a perfect day for Denny Hamlin Friday at Michigan International Speedway, as Hamlin swept practice and all three rounds of qualifying to win the pole for the Consumers Energy 400.
Hamlin turned his fastest lap of qualifying in the final session with a time of 35.504 seconds for an average speed of 202.794 mph. It is Hamlin’s first pole at MIS, a track that he has had success at in the past, and his 28th career pole. It’s also his second-consecutive pole after winning it at Watkins Glen last weekend.
He said the way his car handled Friday he hopes translates to a good car all weekend.
“I’ve never qualified on the pole here before,” Hamlin said. “We have a car that’s been driving good all day. If we can duplicate that and have it drive the same in race trim, it should be a great race for us.”
He said while he doesn’t have a win yet this year, he feels things are starting to turn around.
“We’re starting to see results,” Hamlin said. “You can definitely see that we’re gaining speed, gaining momentum, even though the finish doesn’t necessarily show it. I’m very optimistic about this week. This is a racetrack that we’ve had success at.”
Hamlin has won at least one race a season since his rookie year, and was asked whether it is important to him to keep that streak alive.
“It is, it is a very important streak,” he said. “I think about it. I thought it was all over in ‘13, the year I broke my back, and we won in the final race of the season to keep the streak alive. You look back at the really great drivers of NASCAR and they had long streaks, 10 years and above, of winning in a row and you just want to keep that going for sure. It’s important.”
It will be an all-Joe Gibbs front row Sunday as Hamlin’s teammate came close, but not close enough, with Kyle Busch qualifying second with a lap of 35.515 seconds for an average speed of 202.731 mph.
“This has always been a tricky place for me, trying to be able to find the right setup and get it to where we need it,” Busch said. “We did the same thing again there in qualifying as we typically do here, we’re always a step behind it seems when we go out there for the first run, but then we make adjustments to it each and every run and we get better and have a shot or get closer to the front at least.”
“Just missed it a little bit today for being able to get the number one spot where we want to be to get that number one pit spot, because that’s really important here at Michigan,” Busch continued. “We’ll see how Sunday goes, but typically I wouldn’t say Michigan is one of our best places.”
Kevin Harvick earned a third-place starting spot after suffering on his first-round run when Daniel Suarez got out of the groove ahead of him and hit the wall.
“The first round, we kind of got scared there,” Harvick said. “We thought there was a car in the fence and wound up giving up a little time during the first round, but that didn’t hurt us. It was too tight in all three rounds and in practice and we never got ahead of it.”
Hometown boy Erik Jones qualified in fourth place, while Austin Dillon rounded out the top five.
“We felt like we had a good car throughout practice that was capable of turning a lap,” Dillon said. “We had one extra lap on our tires right there, so that was a really good lap for four runs on tires. We just had to keep tweaking on it. We didn’t ever have the balance quite perfect until that last run. I think the driver gave up a little bit in three of speed.”
Ryan Newman brought the other Richard Childress car to a sixth-place starting spot.
“We didn’t really change a whole lot all day and they relied on me to pick up the speed and I needed to,” Newman said. Just kept building confidence in what I had to work with. Obviously the track kept getting a little faster there at the end, but a good run for our Grainger Chevrolet. An improvement over where we were in the first race here. We need the biggest improvement on race day, so we have some more work to do tomorrow.”