Denny Hamlin figures this weekend is when NASCAR’s real championship contenders begin to separate themselves from the pack. He thinks he’s part of that group — and he’s off to a pretty good start.
On Saturday, Hamlin won the pole position for the Brickyard 400, turning a lap of 182.763 mph in qualifying. And with a good run in the race today, Hamlin figures he can rev up his push for a title.
“This is the turning point of the season,” Hamlin said. “We feel like from Indy to Richmond is when you’re going to start to see who’s going to fight for a championship. Everyone has got their Chase cars prepared, bringing them to the racetrack, starting to tune on them, and that’s when you want to start running good.”
It’s the 11th pole of Hamlin’s career and his second this season. Hamlin also won the pole at California.
Hamlin’s best finish in six Brickyard starts is third in 2008. Coming into this weekend, he had never started higher than 10th at the historic 2.5-mile oval.
“I feel like when we come here, we can win every single time,” Hamlin said. “You ask me that about a couple other tracks, I would say no.”
Carl Edwards qualified second in his first race weekend with new crew chief Chad Norris, followed by Joey Logano, Aric Almirola and Greg Biffle.
Jimmie Johnson qualified sixth, holding onto a wildly loose car.
Jeff Gordon was ninth, Juan Pablo Montoya was 12th and Tony Stewart was 28th.
NASCAR officials disallowed the qualifying time of Michael McDowell after an inspection found that the nitrogen gas in a rear shock absorber on the No. 98 car exceeded the allowable pressure. The No. 19 car driven by Mike Bliss made the race instead.
Brad Keselowski took the lead when Elliott Sadler was penalized for jumping a late restart, then held on to win in a controversial finish to the first NASCAR Nationwide Series race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Sadler passed Keselowski on a restart with 18 laps to go, but officials ruled that Sadler went too early and black-flagged him. Sadler stayed on the track for several laps, apparently hoping officials would reconsider the penalty, before finally coming in with 12 laps to go and giving up the lead to Keselowski.
Keselowski went unchallenged to the finish. Sam Hornish Jr. was second, followed by Ty Dillon, Denny Hamlin and Austin Dillon. Sadler was 15th.
Lewis Hamilton of McLaren secured the pole for the Hungarian Grand Prix in Budapest, ahead of Romain Grosjean of Lotus and Sebastian Vettel of Red Bull. Hamilton set a pace of 1 minute, 20.953, seconds in the qualifying session Saturday, .413 seconds better than Grosjean, who achieved his first front row this year. World championship leader Fernando Alonso of Ferrari was sixth, behind Jenson Button and fifth-place Kimi Raikkonen of Lotus.