Denny Hamlin beat Martin Truex Jr. to pole position for this weekend's FedEx 400 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race, making it his third time starting at the front at Dover International Speedway and his 21st pole in 339 series starts.
"It's so special especially during FedEx 400 weekend, said Hamlin, who carries primary sponsorship from the global courier and delivery services provider. "I'm proud of the efforts of our race team. We came here and we tested and we felt pretty good about it and my team just brought me another fast Camry."
Hamlin was previously on pole here in the autumn of 2012 and the spring of 2013, finishing eighth in the former but crashing out in the latter and classified in 34th.
His third round lap of 22.483s (160.121mph) enough to give him his first pole of 2015 by a margin of just 0.056s over the Furniture Row Racing #78 at the Monster Mile.
"Obviously our car has shown speed all day long, which is something we haven't had lately, so we're kind of building and getting a little bit better and starting to figure out our set-ups," Hamlin explained. "We're getting better and obviously this kind of shows it."
CLICK: Full qualifying times for the FedEx 400 at Dover International Speedway
Hamlin said he was having no lasting effects from the intense migraine he suffered towards the end of the Coca-Cola 600 last week, which was put down to dehydration in NASCAR's longest event of the season.
"We also had an exhaust leak in the car," Hamlin revealed. "We blew a hole in our header and exhaust system that was leaking in the car. That didn't help at all either," adding that running in the Xfinity Series race the day before had also been a contributory factor.
"We're not doing that this week. You just have to be prepared," he said. "I felt like I kept up with my fluids pretty well last week, but obviously it wasn't enough. I've got to go above and beyond. The conditions and the car didn't make things very easy for me. The headache had nothing to do with the dehydration. The migraine that I suffered, what I felt like, was from the exhaust inside the car."
Putting the #11 on pole this weekend was an emphatic statement that Hamlin was back in business, but it was a close-run battle with Truex, who continues his strong run of form so far in 2015 while still narrowly missing out on the top spot itself in both qualifying and the race.
"Yeah, we were close," said Truex. "For whatever reason, we thought we were in good shape, and then right there, I went to go for it and for some reason the car just got really tight laying it down in the corners. So, we missed it by a little bit.
"I'm obviously proud of the continued effort by all the guys on the Furniture Row team," he added. "We have an awesome race car. We thought we were okay in practice. It didn't feel like we were a front row car, and we made some adjustments. They hit it damn near perfect; we just needed a little bit. Another good day and I'm looking forward to tomorrow. I can't wait to get to work on race trim and see what we can do on Sunday."
It was also another strong week for Joe Gibbs Racing overall, which as well seeing Hamlin on pole also saw his three team mates Matt Kenseth, Carl Edwards and Kyle Busch all make it through to the top 12 pole shoot-out round and will start from fourth, eighth and tenth respectively.
"Looks like all of our cars were in the top ten, so pretty optimistic," said Hamlin of how the race was shaping up for the Toyota-powered line-up. "I felt like a lot of the speed came from the tyre test that we had here, we were able to try some new things. Obviously I feel like we have gotten our cars better and really the set-ups we have developed have been quite a bit different."
"We ran a good lap that last round and got a good spot to start in," said Kenseth. "I felt like I did a good job, I felt like I could never hit a lap right except for that last one. We all have some speed in our Camrys again with Denny on the pole and all four Joe Gibbs Racing cars in the top ten, so that's encouraging. We'll get to work tomorrow and get ready for Sunday."
Kenseth will be joined on the second row by Kyle Larson, whose Chip Ganassi Racing team mate Jamie McMurray also made it through to the final round and eventually qualified in 11th place alongside Richard Childress Racing's Austin Dillon.
"We have a good car in race trim too," said an upbeat Larson. "We did a couple of race runs earlier today and I was pretty happy with that. I think we learned some things throughout mock qualifying trim that will help our car for race trim.
"We'll work on it some for tomorrow [practice]. Hopefully we'll have a good race Sunday. We need to start getting some solid finishes. Some top tens would be nice. We haven't had many of them yet this year, so we've got to work hard to get back on track with how we ran at the end of last year and try to work our way back up in the points."
"It was a good recovery for us," said Dillon of his 12th place on the grid. "We were sideways the first round. We adjusted for what we thought the track was going to do and it was the exact opposite. We were too loose the first round. But, they did a great job changing air pressure and doing what we could with the car to get us in the next round. And we waited. And we'll take 12th. That's a big improvement."
Roush Fenway Racing continued to enjoy something of a qualifying renaissance. Coming off a second place start in the All-Star Race and and a runners-up spot at the end of last week's Coca-Cola 600, Greg Biffle will start this weekend's race from seventh place alongside Stewart-Haas Racing's Kevin Harvick. Biffle will be one row ahead of his team mate Ricky Stenhouse Jr. who lines up in ninth.
"I am encouraged with where our lap times are," said Biffle. "We are less than a tenth off the pole. A tenth of a second, if I had one more chance at it I think I could have done that.
"Momentum is kind of on our side. We are getting the car to drive better, getting a little better setup under it and working on our chassis back at the shop. We will continue to make these small gains and hopefully going into Pocono, Indy and Michigan we will see if we can get it up in the top five. We are in the top ten now, we need the top five."
"The Ford EcoBoost Fusion looks cool and it has some good speed," added his team mate Stenhouse. "I am really happy with our effort. It has been awhile since we qualified that well. Greg has been qualifying better the last couple of weeks. We were both similar right there and able to back up our time each run. That is a positive. We have to turn that over to the race trim and in the race and have a good day tomorrow in practice to get it ready for Sunday."
"It's definitely always good to qualifying good here," said sixth-place starter Harvick. "I think we felt like we needed a little bit of speed in practice. We definitely just kind of rolled the dice there. Probably a little bit better than we would have been, so I think definitely a good step in the right direction."
Hendrick Motorsports on the other hand had a second successive disappointing week in qualifying, with all four of the HMS line-up failing to make it through to the final round, and Kasey Kahne falling at the first hurdle and not even managing to progress from the first round.
"The whole car just really shook. When it landed in the corner it even vibrated and shook and bounced and did everything worse than in the straightaway," said a frustrated Kahne who will start from 25th place. "It didn't do that in practice, so I'm wondering first that maybe there's an unbalanced wheel or tyre or something like that, or else like the driveline or something got off somehow from the first practice. The splitter is not really on the track, so I don't think it could be that. I'm a little confused as to why it would be so bad - it was really
His team mates did better, but not by much. Jeff Gordon will take the green flag in 22nd place and Dale Earnhardt Jr. will start from 16th; six-time Cup champion Jimmie Johnson came closest to progressing to the final round of qualifying but ultimately had to settle for 14th alongside SHR's Kurt Busch on row seven.
"The track changed dramatically from practice to qualifying," was Gordon's opinion. "I think for everybody, but we were just really super tight landing, getting into the corner and couldn't get it to rotate. Just lost all of the speed that way. Just a lot of grip loss.
I know a lot of other people are experiencing the same thing, but we just needed to go further on our adjustments," he continued. "We freed the car up actually for qualifying [but] it just wasn't near enough. We freed it up for round 2 and it still wasn't enough. Frustrating that we were that far off."
"We didn't make the changes we needed to, or thought we needed to change because the car had so much speed in that first practice session," sighed Johnson, echoing his team mates' views on the change in the track condition. "But it's a totally different race track from then. We tried to plan ahead and made some small changes, but it wasn't enough. It is so black and so little grip compared to what we had this morning.
"We'll get smarter. We'll learn. We'll put this in our notes for the next trip back here on this tyre combination and get smarter from it," he added, already putting Friday's minor disappointment firmly in the rear view mirror and looking ahead to Sunday's race instead. "This Lowe's Pro Services Chevrolet is really fast. We showed that this morning. We qualified decent. And we've won from much further back that from 14th this year, so I'm not worried about that at all."
the Sprint Cup field get two more 50-minute practice sessions on Saturday afternoon, before the 400-mile race itself gets underway on Sunday afternoon at 1pm local time (6pm BST). Not taking part in the rest of the weekend's Cup activity will be Travis Kvapil and Jeff Green, the two drivers who failed to qualify on the 43-car grid for this week's race.
See full qualifying times for the FedEx 400 at Dover International Speedway