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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)
The crew of Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Lowe’s Pro Services Chevrolet SS, celebrate Johnson`s victory, Sunday, May 31, 2015, in the NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Dover International Speedway in Dover, Delaware. This was Johnson`s 10th win at Dover, his career 74th. (Photo by Tim Parks/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Lowe’s Pro Services Chevrolet SS, races to victory with third place finisher Kyle Larson, driver of the #42 Target Chevrolet SS, Sunday, May 31, 2015, in the NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Dover International Speedway in Dover, Delaware. This was Johnson`s 10th win at Dover, his career 74th. (Photo by Alan Marler/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Lowe’s Pro Services Chevrolet SS, takes the chequered flag, Sunday, May 31, 2015, in the NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Dover International Speedway in Dover, Delaware. This was Johnson`s 10th win at Dover, his career 74th. Following in second and third place are Kevin Harvick, driver of the # 4 DiTech Chevrolet SS and Kyle Larson, driver of the # 42 Target Chevrolet SS. (Photo by David Tullis/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Lowe’s Pro Services Chevrolet SS, celebrates his victory, Sunday, May 31, 2015, after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Dover International Speedway in Dover, Delaware. This was Johnson`s 10th win at Dover, his career 74th. (Photo by Alan Marler/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Lowe`s Pro Services Chevrolet, celebrates in Victory Lane after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series FedEx 400 Benefiting Autism Speaks at Dover International Speedway on May 31, 2015 in Dover, Delaware.  (Photo Credit: Photo by Todd Warshaw/Getty Images)
Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Lowe`s Pro Services Chevrolet, celebrates in Victory Lane after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series FedEx 400 Benefiting Autism Speaks at Dover International Speedway on May 31, 2015 in Dover, Delaware.  (Photo Credit: Photo by Daniel Shirey/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Lowe`s Pro Services Chevrolet, celebrates in Victory Lane after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series FedEx 400 Benefiting Autism Speaks at Dover International Speedway on May 31, 2015 in Dover, Delaware.  (Photo Credit: Photo by Daniel Shirey/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Lowe`s Pro Services Chevrolet, is cheered by his team while celebrating with a burnout after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series FedEx 400 Benefiting Autism Speaks at Dover International Speedway on May 31, 2015 in Dover, Delaware. (Photo Credit: Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images)
Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Lowe`s Pro Services Chevrolet, celebrates with a burnout after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series FedEx 400 Benefiting Autism Speaks at Dover International Speedway on May 31, 2015 in Dover, Delaware.  (Photo Credit: Photo by Matt Sullivan/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Lowe`s Pro Services Chevrolet, crosses the finish line to win the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series FedEx 400 Benefiting Autism Speaks at Dover International Speedway on May 31, 2015 in Dover, Delaware.  (Photo Credit: Photo by Todd Warshaw/Getty Images)
Joey Logano, driver of the #22 Shell Pennzoil Ford, leads Kyle Busch, driver of the #18 Skittles Toyota, during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series FedEx 400 Benefiting Autism Speaks at Dover International Speedway on May 31, 2015 in Dover, Delaware. (Photo Credit: Photo by Chris Trotman/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Dale Earnhardt Jr., driver of the #88 Nationwide Chevrolet, races Trevor Bayne, driver of the #6 AdvoCare Ford, during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series FedEx 400 Benefiting Autism Speaks at Dover International Speedway on May 31, 2015 in Dover, Delaware.  (Photo Credit: Photo by Todd Warshaw/Getty Images)
Denny Hamlin, driver of the #11 FedEx Cares Toyota, races the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series FedEx 400 Benefiting Autism Speaks at Dover International Speedway on May 31, 2015 in Dover, Delaware. (Photo Credit: Photo by Todd Warshaw/Getty Images)

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