For the second time in a row, Denny Hamlin set the pace at Bristol Motor Speedway.
At last year's Irwin Night Tools Race on Aug. 24, Hamlin earned the pole with a time of 14.878 seconds. On Friday, he did one better, not only earning the pole for the Food City 500, but also setting a record in the process, per USA Today's Nate Ryan:
Denny Hamlin wins the pole at Bristol Motor Speedway with a record lap at 129.991 mph, beats Brad Keselowski by 0.003 seconds. #nascar— Nate Ryan (@nateryan) March 14, 2014
Hamlin's time of 14.761 was a mere 0.003 seconds ahead of Brad Keselowski, who will have to settle for starting in the second position.
Here's a look at the full race order for Sunday:
|14||Dale Earnhardt Jr.||-0.198|
|21||Ricky Stenhouse Jr.||-0.267|
|29||Martin Truex Jr.||-0.306|
For those who haven't seen the group qualifying format, Bristol Motor Speedway posted a Vine of the action, and you'd be forgiven if you thought it was the actual race at first sight:
Team Penske's drivers have had a lot of success this season with the new style. Hamlin admitted how well the Penske cars were running on Friday, per Ryan:
I think their cars were just so fast, they were able to do what we did (Friday). They never had to make a second run in any session to advance to the next session. They always had the freshest tires, the coolest cars. They'd make the runs really early in every session.
Their cars have so much speed right now, they can do anything they want. When you have a car with speed, you have that confidence to go out there at any time you want.
Keselowski in particular seems to have really benefited from the new qualifying format, per Anita Goodan Soltis of WKVI Radio:
Three weekends with the new qualifying format and Brad @keselowski has finished no worse than 2nd. Think he likes this new race-like format?— Anita Goodan Soltis (@Anita_Soltis) March 14, 2014
Fellow Penske driver Joey Logano earned a respective fourth-place finish, and he took to Twitter to thank both his sponsor and racing team:
It isn't all about Team Penske, of course.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. enters Bristol as the points leader after three races. Keselowski is only one point back, so it's important that Earnhardt manage a strong finish on Sunday if he wants to hold onto his lead.
For the second week in a row, Earnhardt will start a race in 14th position. Despite that somewhat lackluster showing, he remained upbeat on Twitter:
Startin 14th 2 weeks in a row. Juuuuust missed the last session. GJ @NASCAR on the improvements to safety. 88 is ready for the next practice— Dale Earnhardt Jr. (@DaleJr) March 14, 2014
After finishing second in the Kobalt 400, Earnhardt's 14th isn't all that bad of a starting position. He may be a little upset, though, that he was so close to that 12th-place cutoff. With Bristol being such a short track, starting out even two places closer to the pole-sitter can make a big difference.
The compact nature of Bristol also leads to more than a few collisions. Danica Patrick was one of four drivers who wrecked in qualifying and needed their backup cars to finish on Friday, per Sporting News:
Patrick would finish in 36th, and as you'd expect, she was less than enthused with the performance, per Jeff Gluck of USA Today's Vine account:
The Food City 500 gets underway at 1 p.m. on Sunday, with coverage on Fox. It should be a fun race, especially with NASCAR encouraging a little more of the bumping that makes races on shorter tracks more exciting.
The steep banks at Bristol should also lead to quicker speeds than you normally see on a track that's a little over a half-mile long.
Fans can count on fast cars and big crashes on Sunday.