Kevin Harvick won the pole for Sunday’s AAA 400 at Dover International Speedway but Denny Hamlin may have gained the most from Friday’s qualifying session.
Hamlin, in danger of being one of the four drivers eliminated from the Chase after Sunday’s race, took a big step in the right direction by qualifying third-fastest.
“At one point we’re all going to face elimination sometime in our life and it’s how we respond to that adversity that will define us,” he said.
If Friday’s knockout qualifying session was a test, Hamlin and his No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing team earned an ‘A.’
The bottom four drivers in points in the 16-driver Chase field will be eliminated from title contention following Sunday’s race. Hamlin, 13th in the series standings, trails 12th-place Kasey Kahne by six points.
“I really feel like we turned the corner with our race team over the last month-and-a-half to two months. We’re running really good,” said Hamlin, who finished fifth in the sprint race at Dover.
“To say we have the speed of (Harvick) and (Brad Keselowski) and (Joey Logano) right now, I wouldn’t put us right there. I would put us right behind them.
“I feel we’ve gained a lot the last couple months and I firmly believe if we can make this cut, we can make some noise from here on out.”
Hamlin began the Chase with a sixth-place finish at Chicagoland but a fuel-intake problem last weekend at New Hampshire left him with a 37th-place finish.
Starting up front at Dover is a welcome rebound for Hamlin and his team.
“This will give us a good advantage on Sunday and hopefully we can get a strong run this weekend,” he said.
For Harvick, the pole was the continuation of a stellar qualifying performance this season. The pole is Harvick’s seventh of the season – one more than he earned in his entire career prior to 2014.
“I have never really qualified that well really anywhere, but here, I guess that is going to be a good deal to have the first pit stall,” Harvick said. “Here, especially under yellow, you just don’t have to go very far when you are leaving the pit box.
“The good pit stalls are typically on that end of pit road, and if you wind up having to get out of your pits, and guys are still coming in as you are in the front of the pack, it is hard to get out of your stall.”
Harvick is without a win in the first round of the Chase but third in the series standings with little danger of advancing to the next round.
Harvick has never won at the 1-mile concrete track but has finished in the Top 10 in five of his last seven races.
So, what is his goal for Sunday?
“To just try to win,” he said. “That’s really the thinking at this particular point. Obviously, points-wise, we feel like we’re in good shape and we just want to keep building on the momentum.”
Kyle Busch qualified second, Keselowski was fourth and Jamie McMurray fifth. Keselowski and Joey Logano have won the first two races of the Chase and are the only drivers guaranteed to advance to the second round.
“We’re strong. (Harvick) is a little bit better,” Keselowski said. “We seem to be right there with everyone else or maybe just a touch better, but we’ll keep working on it.”