Denny Hamlin is off to a great start at Dover International Speedway after taking the pole during Saturday's qualifying for the Drydene 400.
Kyle Larson put forth a great effort to catch Hamlin for the top spot but ultimately missed out by .003 seconds. The No. 11 car set a track qualifying record with a time of 21.559 seconds:
This weekend's race marks the beginning of the round of 12 in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup playoffs. Aric Almirola, Ryan Newman, Kurt Busch and Erik Jones were eliminated from contention following last week's event at Charlotte.
Hamlin has put himself in a prime position to make waves in the standings this round. He came to Dover ranked third, just 16 points behind Kyle Busch and 11 points away from second-place Martin Truex Jr. The gap between eighth and ninth is one point between Larson (3,006) and Alex Bowman (3,005).
Looking at all of the playoff drama still to be sorted out, here's how the 38-driver field will line up for Sunday's race in Delaware, via NASCAR.com:
Row 1: Denny Hamlin (Pole Winner), Kyle Larson
Row 2: Martin Truex Jr., Kevin Harvick
Row 3: Chase Elliott, William Byron
Row 4: Aric Almirola, Erik Jones
Row 5: Kurt Busch, Ryan Blaney
Row 6: Jimmie Johnson, Alex Bowman
Row 7: Paul Menard, Joey Logano
Row 8: Daniel Suarez, Brad Keselowski
Row 9: Clint Bowyer, Kyle Busch
Row 10: Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Matt DiBenedetto
Row 11: David Ragan, Chris Buescher
Row 12: Matt Tifft, Ryan Newman
Row 13: Ty Dillon, Bubba Wallace
Row 14: Austin Dillon, Michael McDowell
Row 15: Corey LaJoie, Landon Cassill
Row 16: Daniel Hemric, Ryan Preece
Row 17: BJ McLeod, Ross Chastain
Row 18: J.J. Yeley, Joe Nemechek
Row 19: Garrett Smithley, Reed Sorenson
Based on Hamlin's recent history, winning the pole is a good sign for him heading into the main race. This is his second time starting from the top spot this season; the first time was Aug. 17 at Bristol when he also won the race.
Given how close the competition for the top spot in the overall standings is right now, Hamlin is doing his best to put pressure on Busch and Truex.
There is bad news for Truex, despite qualifying third. The No. 19 car failed the pre-race inspection, so his crew will be without chief engineer James Small during the race.
Larson has put himself in a good position by starting second. The Chip Ganassi Racing star can create some distance from the cluster of competitors behind him in the standings. Bowman, Ryan Blaney, William Byron and Clint Bowyer are within six points of the eighth spot.
Busch is having the NASCAR equivalent of an all-or-nothing run late in the season. The points leader has qualified outside the top 15 in six of the past eight races after Saturday, and he's finished 37th twice in the previous four weeks.
The upside for Busch is he's been able to make up a lot of ground on occasion. For instance, he still found a way to finish third at Darlington on Sept. 1 after starting 33rd. The 2015 NASCAR champion will need a run like that if he hopes to maintain his advantage in the standings.
Everything will be decided when drivers take their positions for the race Sunday at 2:30 p.m. ET.