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Denny Hamlin claims NASCAR Sprint Cup Series pole at Bristol

Denny Hamlin narrowly pipped Brad Keselowski for pole position by just three thousandths of a second in qualifying for Sunday's Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway.
Full qualifying results

Denny Hamlin narrowly managed to stop Team Penske extending their run of pole positions in the new qualifying format introduced at Phoenix, claiming the top spot for this weekend's NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at the half-mile Bristol Motor Speedway by just 0.003s ahead of Brad Keselowski.

"Obviously this is a great start to the weekend at a track where we believe it's a great opportunity for us to get a win and put ourselves in a Chase spot," said Hamlin. "It's been documented and every pole winner says that the number one pit stall and all the good stuff that comes with it.

"Ultimately, our job is to get our car better for race trim tomorrow and I was really pleased with it today in race trim," he said.

Hamlin's time of 14.761s (129.991mph) was a new track record for Bristol, his Joe Gibbs Racing team mate Kyle Busch having previously held the record with 14.813s (129.535mph) set one year ago. It's Hamlin's second career pole at Bristol and his 18th in 295 series starts, meaning that he is now tied with Lee Petty, Joe Weatherly and Donnie Allison for 38th on the all-time list of pole positions.

It's the first time that a Penske car hasn't locked out the front row of the grid in the new qualifying format, after Joey Logano was fastest at Phoenix and Keselowski switched positions to go top last weekend at Las Vegas. This week, Logano ended up being pushed down to fourth place by Hamlin's JGR team mate Matt Kenseth who will line up in third place.

"When you set out honestly like what Penske has done early this year ... it makes the competition really, really scratch their heads and start finding where we need to be," Hamlin admitted. "I'm okay with easing into the year and we've done that with our #11 car a lot throughout my career. Kind of figuring out where we need to be and finding that in the summer months not necessarily right now."

This weekend saw the first tweaks to the new qualifying format since it was introduced, with 'cool down' laps banned on safety grounds and teams able to use cooling units on pit road instead. The changes got broadly positive reviews from the drivers.

"Oh, absolutely, I think that rule change has just made qualifying even better," said Keselowski. "It's removed danger and replaced it with opportunity, which I think is a positive-positive. I'm very happy with that rule as it stands right now.

"It doesn't matter what I say because we qualified well and everyone is gonna say, 'Of course you're happy with it,' but I think that was for the betterment of the sport and certainly if for no other reason that safety it's definitely worth it," he elaborated. "But I also feel like being able to go out there and make multiple runs is now a lot more plausible because of that scenario and that's something that rewards the fans and rewards the teams as well."

"I'm sure everyone was for it," agreed Logano. " Everyone was lobbying for this and I feel like NASCAR made the right call in listening to the teams and understanding what our point of view was.

"Everyone was kind of nervous about it here because the closing rate here is quick and you saw what happened at Vegas last week - how fast we were going - so it was definitely the right move for keeping us safe out there," he added. "The competition and the excitement for the fans by being able to make more runs out there and not make cool down laps was also better, so, overall, it's a win-win."

Marcos Ambrose will start from fifth place alongside Jeff Gordon, with Kyle Busch in seventh place alongside Greg Biffle. Biffle and Busch had both forced to take to their backup cars before qualifying after hitting the wall in the earlier 90-minute practice session, as did Justin Allgaier in the #51 HScott Racing Chevrolet. Biffle's Roush Fenway Racing team mate Ricky Stenhouse Jr. also brushed the wall but the damage to the #17 proved superficial.

The most serious accident of practice came just three minutes in when the #10 Stewart-Haas Racing car snapped right in turn 2 which saw it collect the #30 Swan Racing Toyota of Cup rookie Parker Kligerman, resulting in both cars sliding down the backstretch.

The good news is that none of the backup cars used on Friday should result in drivers being forced to the back of the grid for the start of Sunday afternoon's race, which is at risk of falling foul to incoming rain systems.

Full qualifying results



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Kasey Kahne, Jr., driver of the NASCAR Sprint Cup #5 Farmers Insurance Chevrolet SS qualified 10th Friday, March 14, 2014 for Sunday`s NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Bristol Motor Speedway in Bristol, Tennessee. Kahne is 15th in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series (NSCS) standings. (Photo Credit: HHP/Garry Eller for Chevrolet)
Jimmie Johnson, driver of the NASCAR Sprint Cup #48 Kobalt Tools Chevrolet SS qualified 11th Friday, March 14, 2014 for Sunday`s NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Bristol Motor Speedway in Bristol, Tennessee. Johnson is 3rd in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series (NSCS) standings. (Photo Credit: HHP/Alan Marler for Chevrolet)
Ryan Newman, driver of the NASCAR Sprint Cup #31 Quicken Loans Billon Dollar Bracket Challenge Chevrolet SS qualified 9th Friday, March 14, 2014 for Sunday`s NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Bristol Motor Speedway in Bristol, Tennessee. Newman is 9th in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series (NSCS) standings. (Photo Credit: HHP/Christa L. Thomas for Chevrolet)
Jeff Gordon, driver of the NASCAR Sprint Cup #24 Axalta Chevrolet SS qualified 6th Friday, March 14, 2014 for Sunday`s NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Bristol Motor Speedway in Bristol, Tennessee. Gordon is 5th in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series (NSCS) standings. (Photo Credit: HHP/Christa L. Thomas for Chevrolet)
Denny Hamlin, driver of the #11 FedEx Freight Toyota, celebrates winning the pole position after qualifying for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway on March 14, 2014 in Bristol, Tennessee. (Photo Credit: Drew Hallowell/Getty Images)
Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Lowe’s/Kobalt Tools Chevrolet SS finished in third place Sunday, September 28, 2014 in the Chase Challenger 16 NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Dover International Speedway in Dover, Delaware. Johnson advances to the Contender 12 phase of the Chase which begins next Sunday at Kansas Speedway.  (Photo by Gregg Ellman/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 Drive To End Hunger Chevrolet SS races to win Sunday, September 28, 2014 in the Chase Challenger 16 NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Dover International Speedway in Dover, Delaware. Gordon advances to the Contender 12 phase of the Chase which begins next Sunday at Kansas Speedway.  (Photo by Gregg Ellman/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 Drive To End Hunger Chevrolet SS celebrates his victory with his daughter, Ella Sofia Sunday, September 28, 2014 in the Chase Challenger 16 NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Dover International Speedway in Dover, Delaware. Gordon advances to the Contender 12 phase of the Chase which begins next Sunday at Kansas Speedway.  (Photo by Gregg Ellman/HHP for Chevy Racing)
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Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 Drive To End Hunger Chevrolet, celebrates in Victory Lane after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series AAA 400 at Dover International Speedway on September 28, 2014 in Dover, Delaware. (Photo Credit: Sarah Glenn/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Brad Keselowski, driver of the #2 Wurth Ford, races Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 Drive To End Hunger Chevrolet, during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series AAA 400 at Dover International Speedway on September 28, 2014 in Dover, Delaware.  (Photo Credit: Matt Sullivan/Getty Images)
Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 Drive To End Hunger Chevrolet, crosses the finish line to win the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series AAA 400 at Dover International Speedway on September 28, 2014 in Dover, Delaware. (Photo Credit: Sean Gardner/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 Drive To End Hunger Chevrolet, celebrates with a burnout after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series AAA 400 at Dover International Speedway on September 28, 2014 in Dover, Delaware. (Photo Credit: Todd Warshaw/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 Drive To End Hunger Chevrolet, leads Kyle Larson, driver of the #42 Target Chevrolet, during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series AAA 400 at Dover International Speedway on September 28, 2014 in Dover, Delaware.  (Photo Credit: Matt Sullivan/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Kevin Harvick drives the #4 Budweiser Chevrolet back to pit road after cutting a tyre during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series AAA 400 at Dover International Speedway on September 28, 2014 in Dover, Delaware.  (Photo Credit: Jared C. Tilton/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 Drive To End Hunger Chevrolet, pits during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series AAA 400 at Dover International Speedway on September 28, 2014 in Dover, Delaware.  (Photo Credit: Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Budweiser Chevrolet, and Kyle Busch, driver of the #18 Interstate Batteries Toyota, lead the field to the start of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series AAA 400 at Dover International Speedway on September 28, 2014 in Dover, Delaware. (Photo Credit: Sean Gardner/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Kyle Busch, driver of the #54 Monster Energy Toyota, celebrates in Victory Lane after winning the NASCAR Nationwide Series Dover 200 at Dover International Speedway on September 27, 2014 in Dover, Delaware.  (Photo Credit: Nick Laham/Getty Images)

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