Rain Shortens Qualifying, Hamlin on Pole at Nashville

Rain poured down on the Nashville Superspeedway just before the final round of qualifying was set to begin.
Rain Shortens Qualifying, Hamlin on Pole at Nashville

Denny Hamlin captured his 35th career pole today in what was a strange day of qualifying at Nashville.

Both groups completed their qualifying runs, setting up the top ten drivers that were to battle for pole position. Mother Nature had other ideas though, and the skies opened up before the final round could begin. The rest of qualifying was cancelled and the field was set according to the times that each driver earned.

“It was a great run for us,” Hamlin said. “We didn’t start off practice that stellar but with every run we kept getting better and better. Obviously today, it was even better. I thought I under-drove a little bit but still it was good enough.” The driver of the No. 11 Camry posted a lap at 29.848 seconds in the first qualifying group.

This is the fourth and final race that crew chief Chris Gabehart will miss due to his suspension after Hamlin lost a wheel at Dover. That could be a good omen as Hamlin won the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte from pole position with interim crew chief Sam McAulay.

Joining Hamlin on the front row is Joey Logano, as the Ford drivers seemed much faster than in yesterday's practice session. Hendrick Motorsports teammates Kyle Larson and Chase Elliott start from Row 2, as Larson aims to defend his Nashville race win. Row 3 features the most recent race winner Daniel Suarez, and the winless but consistent Ryan Blaney.

Row 4 starters are Ross Chastain and Kevin Harvick while Joe Gibbs Racing teammates Christopher Bell and Martin Truex Jr round out the top ten qualifiers on Saturday. Just missing out on the top ten were Aric Almirola, Alex Bowman, William Byron, AJ Allmendinger, and Chris Buescher.

Rain Shortens Qualifying, Hamlin on Pole at Nashville

Larson led 264 of the 300 laps last year on his way to a 4.33-second beat down of the competition. Even though it was just last year, these are different times right now in the Cup Series. The reigning series champ is riding a 14-race winless streak heading into tomorrow's race and will have interim crew chief Kevin Meendering on his pit box as Cliff Daniels serves his four-race suspension after the team lost a wheel at Sonoma.

Chastain is one of only four drivers that have more than one victory this season. The Trackhouse Racing driver finished runner-up in this race last year and has seven top-five finishes in the last 14 races. As the most recent race winners, and another solid qualifying effort, Trackhouse Racing enters tomorrow’s race with all of the momentum.

The Hendrick organization has just one victory over the last eight races, which is somewhat surprising given all of their success last season. Byron has been particularly quiet over those last eight races, but had a sensational race here last year. The driver of the No. 24 Chevrolet finished 3rd after starting in the back of the field after being penalized for some unapproved adjustments.

"What I’ve learned this year is you don’t have any margin for mistakes," said team owner Rick Hendrick. "A year ago we were so dominant, we could make a mistake and come back, but you can’t do that now. The competition is too tight. I feel good about where we are, but it’s going to be a dogfight. You don’t have any cushion. I’ve never seen the competition this stiff."

Bowman, who finished 14th here last year, echoed the thoughts of his boss. “I don’t think we’re bad by any means,” he said. “I think we’re just not as great as we were in the beginning of the year. I think some other guys have just caught up, and we’ve got to do our homework to get back ahead of the pack. We’re all working on it. There’s a lot of smart people at HMS.”

Harvick comes into the weekend as the first driver below the cutoff line in the points standings. He is seven points behind his teammate Almirola, and has a 12-year playoff streak that he would like to extend. His 2022 season has been anything but typical but he does have two top-four finishes in his last four races. He finished 5th here a year ago and will have some new faces on his pit crew after his frustration reached a boiling point at Sonoma.

Harvick was running in 3rd when he made his final pit stop at Sonoma, but came out in 7th place after a 22-second stop. Asked what he needed for a better finish, Harvick said “Something that wasn’t a 20-second pit stop.” The team has addressed those concerns and will try to find victory lane tomorrow to snap his 59-race winless streak. He has finished runner-up four times over the course of his drought but a great starting position for tomorrow.

Another former champion trying to capture his first win this season is Truex, who sits 14th in the playoff standings. The Gibbs driver is still winless after four victories a season ago. He has just two top-five finishes compared to six at this time last year. The veteran announced yesterday that he will be returning to the No. 19 Camry next season, ending speculation about his driving future.

Martin’s teammate Kyle Busch is also trying to solidify his future plans. He had a rough day today when he spun his No. 18 Toyota during his qualifying attempt. It will certainly be entertaining to watch him slice his way through the field from the 36th starting position.

Rain Shortens Qualifying, Hamlin on Pole at Nashville

Despite today’s incident, the two-time champion is finding the level playing field this year to be quite refreshing. "You want to create some separation for yourself amongst the rest of your competitors,” Busch said. "That betters you throughout the playoffs. With everyone being so close together and keeping bunched up, and with the season being as unpredictable, up and down for everybody, the playoffs could be that exact same way, where there are just way more unknowns."

Toyota flexed their muscle yesterday but the two 23 XI Racing drivers struggled in qualifying today. Kurt Busch qualified 19th and Bubba Wallace starts 30th after leading Friday’s practice session. Wallace had a moment during his qualifying lap but was able to save his No. 23 machine from spinning out.

Coverage for tomorrow’s Ally 400 begins at 5 PM ET on NBC.

Read More