Denny Hamlin streaked around two-mile Auto Club Speedway in 39.158secs to win the pole for Sunday's Pepsi 500 NASCAR Sprint Cup race in decisive fashion.
The third driver to make a qualifying attempt, Hamlin posted his lap and waited as the top three drivers in Friday's practice session - Juan Pablo Montoya, Jimmie Johnson and Mark Martin - took their best shots and fell short.
Temporarily, David Reutimann claimed the second starting spot in Friday's time trials, but his time was subsequently disallowed after NASCAR found that the rear shock absorbers on his #00 Toyota exceeded NASCAR's gas-level limit during post-qualifying inspection. NASCAR confiscated both rear shocks, but NASCAR spokesperson Ramsey Poston said the sanctioning body would not impose additional penalties beyond disallowing the time.
Greg Biffle had earned the third position and moved up to the outside of the front row after Reutimann's disqualification, while Johnson and Montoya qualified fourth and fifth respectively. With Reutimann starting 42nd on an owner points provisional because of the disallowed time, Johnson moved up to the third position and Montoya to the fourth.
Martin, who leads Johnson by 18 points with seven races left in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup, will start ninth, while Martin Truex Jr, rookie Joey Logano, Kevin Harvick and Clint Bowyer claimed positions five through eight respectively.
Between practice and qualifying, Hamlin, who is sixth in the Chase standings, picked up substantial speed after his crew made massive changes to a car that was 27th quickest in the practice session.
"It was definitely a good run - a big pick-up for us," the driver said after claiming the seventh pole of his Cup career and his first since May 2008 at Richmond, "We definitely didn't expect that after how poorly we practiced. The good part about that is that, when you run so horribly in practice, you're at liberty to just kind of throw everything you want at it. That's what we did, and came up with a great set-up."
In addition to Hamlin, Biffle, Johnson, Montoya and Martin, Chase contenders Jeff Gordon, Carl Edwards, Tony Stewart, Kurt Busch, Kasey Kahne, Brian Vickers and Ryan Newman will start tenth, eleventh, 20th, 24th, 25th, 32nd and 36th respectively
Kyle Busch, who is suffering from a sinus infection, qualified 19th, but will start from the rear of the field Sunday after blowing the engine in his #18 Toyota during Friday's practice. Tony Raines and Mike Wallace failed to qualify for the 43-car field.
by Reid Spencer / Sporting News NASCAR Wire Service