AUTO RACING: Hamlin wins Dover pole
DOVER, Del. — Denny Hamlin has another top spot in his comeback from a back injury.
He’ll need to turn poles into checkered flags if he wants to make a serious run at a spot in the Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship.
Hamlin turned a lap of 157.978 mph Friday to win the pole at Dover International Speedway. He won the pole last week at Charlotte Motor Speedway and has three overall this season.
But a four-race absence because of his injury has him needing wins to make the Chase and race for his first career championship.
Hamlin, who finished fourth last week, has never won at Dover. He has only a 19.6 average finish in 14 career races on the mile track.
Hamlin’s fourth-place finish moved him up three spots to 24th in the standings, 53 points out of 20th position, where he’d need to be to be eligible for one of two wild-card berths.
“I feel like we’re hitting our stride,” he said. “We’re running really well at different types of race tracks. Overall, I’m pretty happy. We still need to get those race wins.”
Martin Truex Jr., who raced to his only career Cup victory at Dover, will start second and joined Hamlin for an all-Toyota front row. Kyle Busch, Matt Kenseth and Ryan Newman rounded out the top five. Busch and Kenseth also drive Toyotas.
Points leader Jimmie Johnson qualified 24th. Carl Edwards, second in the points, was 18th. Danica Patrick will start 39th.
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. Hamlin is 97 points out of the top 10 and an automatic berth in the Chase.
He and Johnson are the only two drivers to make the Chase for the Sprint Cup every year they’ve been eligible.
“We’ve been qualifying pretty good, which has really helped out our cause with our race finishes,” Hamlin said.
Truex, from nearby Mayetta, N.J., has long considered Dover his home track. His 2007 victory propelled him into the Chase, and another win Sunday would not only end a six-year drought, but bolster his spot in the top 10. He enters Sunday’s race ninth in the standings.
“You always want to come here and get the pole,” Truex said. “I love this place so much and have so many fans in this area.”
Truex finished seventh and sixth in last year’s two Cup races at Dover.
Truex wants to win in front of all his family and friends. Hamlin pretty much has to win before time totally runs out for him to make the Chase.
“I think our only play is to be aggressive,” Hamlin said. “I think that to come here and try to get a good points day is irrelevant because if we don’t win, then we’re not really accomplishing much.”