It was Groundhog Day NASCAR-style on Friday, with Joe Gibbs Racing locking up the top three positions in Sprint Cup qualifying for the second weekend in succession.
This time it was Denny Hamlin who clinched pole position for the team with a lap of 14.602s (131.407mph), setting a new qualifying track record at the half-mile Bristol Motor Speedway as he clinched his 22nd pole in 350 Cup starts. It's the third time in his career that Hamlin has topped qualifying at Bristol, and this is his second pole position of the year with the first having come at Dover International Speedway at the end of May.
CLICK: Full qualifying results for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Irwin Tools Night Race at Bristol Motor Speedway.
"Our FedEx Ground Camry obviously was very fast that last round," agreed Hamlin, crediting crew chief Dave Rogers for finding more speed in the #11 as the session went on. "Dave made the great adjustments to it to pick up the speed and I think that hopefully we'll have something that we can race with them tomorrow night.
"It will change quite a bit," added Hamlin when asked if tomorrow evening's race conditions would be different from the daytime conditions run on Friday. "I think it will definitely go through a few transitions early in the race. You've got to be aware of it, you've got to be ready. We were able to win the night race before and hopefully we can make it two times."
Joining Hamlin on the front row for tomorrow's Cup race will be Kyle Busch, who was just 0.016s slower than Hamlin in the top 12 pole shoot-out round of qualifying. Hamlin and Busch had earlier also qualified 1-2 for Friday night's Xfinity Series support race.
"Great effort for everyone on this Skittles Camry, these guys are doing a great job," Busch said. "Thanks Toyota, TRD and a JGR front row for both races here this weekend. That will be good and we just have to make sure we do all the right things and run a good, smooth 500 laps.
"We were just a little too free there the second segment and the first run of the third segment," he admitted. "It's a little edgy up there so you try not to push too hard, but still make a good lap and come back safely. Then there at the end we tried a 'Hail Mary' and it worked, it picked us up speed, but it didn't pick us up that spot."
Making it a top three lock-out for qualifying was their team mate Carl Edwards in third place, while the presence of Michael Waltrip Racing's David Ragan alongside Edwards on the second row means that it was a Toyota top four.
"Fast Toyotas today," beamed Edwards, who was also third place on last week's starting grid. "Our car is very fast. I'm disappointed that we're not on the pole as fast as the car was, but this is a good effort. The cars are just so fast – I'm excited to go racing. As long as we're up front, we will be just fine."
"I really thought we had a shot at the pole," said Ragan, who had only just made it into the final round. "Just didn't have enough speed that second round. Probably could have made a little bit more aggressive adjustment on my track bar. I thought we had enough speed to advance to the third round pretty easy and we had to run a few extra laps and I think those extra three or four laps on our tyres probably cost us a shot at the pole.
"But anytime you can start in the top-five that's a great starting spot for our Aaron's Toyota," he insisted. "I feel like we've got a good race car. We're pretty happy with that starting spot, but I'll always wonder if we didn't have to run so many laps that second round if we would've had a shot at the pole."
Behind the Toyotas came an all-Ford third row consisting of Penske team mates Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski, while the highest-placed Chevrolet was that of reigning champion Kevin Harvick in the Stewart-Haas Racing #4 which will start from seventh place alongside a spirited performance from Roush Fenway Racing's Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
“Everyone did their part today," said Logano who had to overcome tyre issues during the session. "It seems the #22 team's strength is when there's adversity. It seems like we can keep our heads cool and when you're calm you can make more rational decisions.
"The guys did a good job getting me through the first round just pumping the tyre up with a lot of air and just hoped it would hold enough to make a lap a little faster than what we ran the first time. Then they allowed us to change the tyre and put a scuff on, so we were able to put our mock qualifiers back on and then we got to the next round and qualified fifth."
"The first round just got loose and that kind of put us behind the whole time," described Harvick. "Other than that the car drove pretty good, really throughout every round. Had a little bit of trouble with all the engine stuff shutting off at the end of the straightaway so that was definitely hurting us."
"So far, so good," was Stenhouse's verdict of the session. "We're always confident coming here. One of the things we really wanted to work on was qualifying because we've been starting so bad that we've got a lot of cars to pass and we always need a lucky caution on that first run to keep us on the lead lap with the leaders coming. It was a heck of a job by the guys making good qualifying adjustments for us because we've been qualifying 23rd to 25th everytime and racing really well, so hopefully we can do both now."
Rounding out the top 12 were MWR's Clint Bowyer and Hendrick Motorsports' Jimmie Johnson on row five, and SHR's Kurt Busch who will start from 11th alongside Chip Ganassi Racing's Kyle Larson.
"Just too tight there in the final round," said Busch, who had been fastest in round two. "Our Haas Automation Chevrolet was really fast in race trim. I'm looking forward to the race tomorrow night."
The remaining JGR car of Matt Kenseth - who claimed last week's pole and race win at Michigan - narrowly failed to make it into the final round of qualifying by nine thousandths of a second and as a result will start from 13th place for tomorrow night's race under the floodlights alongside HScott Motorsports' Justin Allgaier.
"I think first of all the track conditions are interesting because obviously the practices this morning were all during the sunlight," Allgaier pointed out. "It's been sunny all afternoon, really hot track conditions and then in the race tomorrow it's going to be at night.
"I felt like our Brandt Professional Agriculture Chevy was really good in race trim," he added. "I wasn't sure how we were going to be in qualifying trim. Obviously we laid down a good lap there in the first round and backed it up and actually went a little faster in the second round. That was good, just needed probably a couple of hundredths to put us in that final round, but still all-in-all a great qualifying effort. Definitely something we can work with for tomorrow night's race."
Wood Brothers' Ryan Blaney will line-up alongside Richard Childress Racing's Austin Dillon on row eight, while RFR's Greg Biffle will join RCR's Ryan Newman on the next row behind.
"You're never satisfied with 15th," admitted Blaney. "It's not the starting spot we want, obviously, but it's a long race and in 500 laps a lot can happen. We'll try to stay clean and be good for my first night race. I'm pretty excited."
A brace of Hendrick cars line-up on row nine with Kasey Kahne starting fro 19th and a frustrated Dale Earnhardt set to start from 20th place ahead of Jamie McMurray (Ganassi), Trevor Bayne (RFR), Martin Truex Jr. (Furniture Row Racing) and Jeff Gordon (Hendrick).
"I don't know what the other guys are fighting, but my car is just real tight on the exit and pretty loose getting in," said Gordon, who is making his final start at Bristol this weekend before his retirement from competition at the end of the season.
"We didn't qualify very good here the last time we were here and heck, I think this time we were worse than we were the last time," he sighed, annoyed at not being able to finish his Bristol outings with a better flourish. "But we raced really good. I thought our race runs looked decent today. It's hard to pass. The groove is up top there, so I was hoping we were going to qualify better than this ... It just wasn't meant to be. I don't know. We were just really struggling when we put it into qualifying trim."
Earlier, Truex had been forced to the back-up car after the left-control arm broke in his primary car sending the #78 crashing into the wall 15 minutes before the end of first practice.
"The backup car, which had some better points to it than the primary, felt pretty good,” said Truex after the Furniture Row Racing team were successful in getting him out on track in time for the final practice session. "We were jammed for time in the final practice and didn't get as many runs in as we would have liked, but my hat's off to the crew for getting the backup ready in a short period of time. We've had our backs to the wall a number of times this year and seem to eventually work out the glitches, as we did last week in Michigan where we qualified 23rd and finished third."
Paul Menard will start from 29th after appearing to glance the wall on his first round qualifying run, and there was disappointment for SHR's Tony Stewart who after a run of strong qualifying performances in recent weeks slumped to 40th place on the grid this weekend. That's the three-time champion's his worst starting spot since the July Daytona race in 2012, and the owner-driver was understandably not at all happy with the handling of the #14 on the short track.
With 46 cars taking part in qualifying bidding to make the 43-car grid, the three drivers missing out and going home early this week are Travis Kvapil, Jeb Burton and Reed Sorenson.
There are no further track sessions now scheduled for the Cup drivers before the start of the 500-lap, 266.5-mile race, which is due to start shortly after 7.30pm local time (12.30am BST) on Saturday evening.
See full qualifying results for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Irwin Tools Night Race at Bristol Motor Speedway.
Get the latest NASCAR news straight to your Twitter feed! CLICK HERE to follow Crash.net's new dedicated NASCAR Twitter feed