Denny Hamlin was delighted to finally put the #11 into the top ten on the grid for the first time in 2012, and furthermore he managed to do it in style - with pole position for Sunday's Auto Club 400 race at Fontana in California.
Hamlin put in a lap of 38.626s (186.403 mph) on the 2-mile D-shaped oval at the Auto Club Speedway, with his Joe Gibbs Racing team mate Kyle Busch due to start alongside him from second place. The third member of the JGR squad, Joey Logano, also qualified in the top ten in eighth position.
"Everyone had a different way of doing it," said Hamlin of the many different approaches to qualifying taken in the gusty conditions on Friday afternoon. "It seemed like there were some guys who were five lanes up and some who just worked their way down. We were one of the few cars that ran all the way on the bottom."
While Busch had gone top by learning from Logano's fast lap, Hamlin stuck to his own instincts when it came to deciding his own line for qualifying.
"Really, I think I would have been less efficient running the top, even though it might have been faster," he said. "My safest route was to take the bottom, and I just took what it gave us."
Hamlin's late run deposed Busch from the top spot, with Busch already in a dead heat for the provisional pole with Michael Waltrip Racing's Mark Martin holding the identical time.
Busch gets the better grid position by virtue of the #18 having finished higher than the #55 in the 2011 owners' standings, putting Martin on the second row alongside series points leader Greg Biffle.
Last year's race winner Kevin Harvick starts from seventh position alongside Logano. Current Cup champion Tony Stewart starts behind them in ninth place, alongside Jimmie Johnson in tenth.
Robby Gordon, Joe Nemechek and Timmy Hill failed to qualify for the 43-car grid; it's Nemechek's first failure to qualify since Phoenix in Nov. 2010.
Full qualifying and Friday practice times