Homestead notebook: Denny Hamlin steals pole for NASCAR championship race

Denny Hamlin came from behind in qualifying Friday night to steal the pole for Sunday’s NASCAR Cup Series championship race at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
Denny Hamlin came from behind in qualifying Friday night to steal the pole for Sunday’s NASCAR Cup Series championship race at Homestead-Miami Speedway. AP

Martin Truex Jr. or Kyle Busch? Busch or Truex?

In the final round of qualifying Friday at Homestead-Miami Speedway, with Busch and Truex atop the leaderboard as the final seconds ticked away, Denny Hamlin was closing in on his final lap. And right before the session ended, Hamlin stole the pole away from the two championship contenders.

This is the second consecutive pole at Homestead for Hamlin, and he continued a five-year streak of championship contenders not winning the pole for the season finale.

Busch qualified second and Truex third. Joey Logano qualified fifth, and Kevin Harvick was last of the four remaining playoff drivers by qualifying 12th.

A few other notes from Friday at the track:

Cool bit of outreach from California native Kyle Larson, who will sport a decal on the side of his No. 42 car this Sunday to support those affected by the Camp Fire in northern California. Larson is asking fans to text “BUTTEFIRE” to 91999 or to go online to donate with him to the United Way of Northern California.

Hamlin announced on social media that he will have a new crew chief next season, moving on from longtime partner Michael “Wheels” Wheeler. Barring a win Sunday night, this will be Hamlin’s first full-time season without a race victory. Hamlin and Wheeler have been together in some capacity since 2004, and Hamlin had previously said he wanted Wheeler to remain his crew chief for the remainder of his career.

Truex’s Furniture Row Racing team is shuttering after this season due to the loss of major sponsorship, making Sunday’s championship race the final NASCAR event the team participates in. Still, team president Joe Garone told reporters Friday morning that Furniture Row’s sponsorship issues were unique and not necessarily indicative of the sport as a whole.

“NASCAR is still a place to be for corporate sponsorship — there’s no question about it,” Garone said. “When you look at where else corporate sponsorship can be, it can’t be in stick‑and‑ball sports, and we’re still drawing enormous crowds. So it does have to fit the partner. It’s got to fit their business model, and some of the sponsors have been around as many years as the one we lost, they flatten out, the economy changes, and sometimes they need to look for something different, and that was a unique situation.”

Another note on Furniture Row, but more fun: For its final NASCAR race, the Denver-based race team opted for a classic look for their final car. Truex’s No. 78 is the same black and orange design he’s run for the bulk of his career with the organization.

No matter where he finishes at Homestead, Charlotte native William Byron has clinched the Cup Series Rookie of the Year award. Byron’s primary competition came from Bubba Wallace, who finished second in the Daytona 500 but found little momentum the rest of the year. Byron is 23rd in the standings compared with Wallace in 28th, even though his best finish was sixth at Pocono, Pa.

A final weather-related note, especially as winter strikes Charlotte this week. The forecast for Sunday’s race? High of 81 and partly sunny. Now everyone go knock on some wood.