Bristol, Tenn. — Denny Hamlin set a track record in leading a Toyota sweep of the first two rows in qualifying at Bristol Motor Speedway.
Hamlin turned a lap Friday at 131.407 mph to break the mark of 131.362 mph set last August by Kevin Harvick.
“It looks like I really got the car working the way I needed to there in that final practice,” Hamlin said.
It was Hamlin’s 22nd career Sprint Cup pole and continued a recent dominant trend by Joe Gibbs Racing. JGR drivers have won five of the last six Sprint Cup Series poles, and Hamlin also won the pole for Friday night’s Xfinity Series race.
JGR teammate Kyle Busch qualified second and was followed by JGR driver Carl Edwards. David Ragan, from Michael Waltrip Racing, was fourth to give Toyota the top four starting spots Saturday night.
It was a huge lift for Ragan, who learned Wednesday he needs to find a new job for next year because MWR is closing at the end of the season. Ragan joined MWR in May as the replacement driver for Brian Vickers, who is sidelined with blood clots.
“I really thought we had a shot at the pole and just didn’t have enough speed that second round,” Ragan said. “Anytime you can start in the top-five, that’s a great starting spot. I feel like we’ve got a good race car. Yeah, 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.”
Joey Logano was the highest-qualifying non-Toyota driver at fifth in a Ford. He was followed by Team Penske teammate Brad Keselowski.
Kevin Harvick was the highest-qualifying Chevrolet at seventh.
Meanwhile, Matt Kenseth, winner of the April race at Bristol and the fourth JGR driver, qualified 13th.
JGR has been the hottest team in NASCAR all summer and leads the Sprint Cup Series with nine victories — including six wins in the last eight races. All four JGR drivers have won this season.
“It’s just a great day,” said Hamlin. “Our car’s had speed in it all day and it looks like I really got the car working the way I needed it to there in the final practice.”
Hendrick Motorsports had a rough day in qualifying as Jimmie Johnson was the highest driver at 10th. Kasey Kahne was 19th, Dale Earnhardt Jr. was 20th and five-time Bristol winner Jeff Gordon will start his final appearance from 24th.
“I was hoping we were going to qualify better than this,” Gordon said.
Three drivers failed to qualify: Travis Kvapil, Reed Sorenson and Jeb Burton.
Chris Buescher appeared to be one of the few drivers capable of keeping Kyle Busch out of victory lane at Bristol Motor Speedway.
Then a late caution screwed up his strategy, and Busch found a way to win yet another Xfinity Series race at the Tennessee track.
Buescher ran out of gas on the restart of a two-lap overtime sprint to the finish Friday night. It allowed Busch to sail past the leader on the restart for his eighth series victory at Bristol.
“I just saved as much as we could, I let (Buescher) go,” Busch said. “I wasn’t sure if they were going to make it on fuel and obviously they cut it close. A little too close.”
The win was the 73rd series victory for Busch, who holds the record for most wins in NASCAR’s second tier series. It also was Busch’s third win in six Xfinity Series starts this year, which began with a crash in the season-opener at Daytona that sidelined him for 11 weeks with a broken right leg and broken left foot.
But he and Joe Gibbs Racing have been on a tear since his return: Busch starts second in Saturday night’s Sprint Cup Series race sandwiched between teammates Denny Hamlin and Carl Edwards as JGR tries for its 10th Cup win of the year.
Buescher was leading when the eighth caution of the race fell with five laps remaining. It set up a green-white-checkered finish, and Buescher bobbled on the restart as his Ford ran out of gas.
He faded to 11th.
“Just ran out of fuel,” he said. “Lost it in the pickup. I’m mad. We were so good, we knew we were good all day.”
Kyle Larson finished second and was followed by Hamlin as full-time Cup drivers took the top three spots. Ty Dilllon was fourth, followed by JGR driver Daniel Suarez, Brian Scott and Chase Elliott.
The fuel miscalculation for Buescher meant his lead in the Xfinity Series standings was cut to 19 by Dillon. Defending series champion Elliott is 23 points back.
Suarez finished fifth to pick up a $100,000 bonus from series sponsor Xfinity in its Dash-for-Cash program eligible only to full-time series drivers.