TALLADEGA, Ala. – Veteran Denny Hamlin earned the first Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway Busch Light Pole Award of his celebrated 18-year career Saturday morning, besting the field by a slight .032-seconds to take the coveted starting position in Sunday’s GEICO 500 (4 p.m. ET, FOX, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).
Hamlin’s No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota ran a lap of 180.751 mph (52.979 seconds) around the 2.66-mile speedway to claim the top starting position – his 37th career pole. Aric Almirola will start his No. 10 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford alongside him – marking the second consecutive week he’s qualified second fastest and fourth time in 2023 he’s qualified in the top 10.
“I was well aware I’d never gotten a speedway pole,” the two-time Talladega and three-time Daytona 500 winner Hamlin said with a smile.
“I don’t know that there is one [advantage], honestly” Hamlin continued. “If I had qualified 18th I’d have been just as optimistic. Although, I will say qualifying on the pole means my car is very capable and will be fast leading. I haven’t been fast in the Next Gen era while leading on superspeedways so certainly that gives me the confidence we should be able to lead the pack quickly, which will make it harder for them to pass us.”
Hamlin’s JGR teammate, Sunoco Rookie of the Year candidate Ty Gibbs was third fastest in the No. 54 JGR Toyota – the best NASCAR Cup Series starting position to date for the first-year fulltime driver. He’ll start alongside Almirola’s teammate Chase Briscoe in the No. 14 SHR Ford.
Two-time Talladega winner Ryan Blaney, Christopher Bell (who started on pole in both of last year’s Talladega races), Martin Truex Jr., Joey Logano, last week’s Martinsville (Va.) winner Kyle Larson and Chris Buescher rounded out the top 10, all advancing to the final round of qualifying. The top group included all four JGR team cars (Hamlin, Gibbs, Bell and Truex).
Defending race winner, Trackhouse Racing’s Ross Chastain, the only driver to earn top five finishes in both 2022 Talladega races, qualified his No. 1 Chevrolet 22nd for Sunday’s grid.
Hendrick Motorsports driver Chase Elliott, who is making only his second start since returning to competition after a six-week recovery for a broken leg, will roll off 29th in the No. 9 Chevrolet. He is a two-time Talladega winner, hoisting the trophy in last fall’s Playoff race. He finished 10th in his return to racing last week at Martinsville.