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Hamlin wins first superspeedway pole of his career

Denny Hamlin Denny Hamlin - Getty Images

TALLADEGA, Ala. (AP) — The day opened at Talladega Superspeedway with NASCAR executives holding an an all-driver meeting.

It was regularly scheduled and mostly mirrored a lengthier meeting held earlier this week between NASCAR and the smaller drivers' alliance. The topics included safety, rules and procedures and anything the drivers wished to discuss.

Based on the last few weeks, the list of driver gripes might have been plentiful.

“Certainly I think that there’s a lot of negative talk in a short amount of time," said Denny Hamlin, pole-sitter for Sunday's race at Talladega Superspeedway.

NASCAR has withered a blistering six weeks of sinking television ratings, controversial penalties — some strangely adjusted during the appeals process, others not — and some sub-par racing that has drivers screaming for changes to the second-year Next Gen car. Those calls were increased after last Sunday's race at Martinsville Speedway, where drivers got out of their cars grumbling that passing was nearly impossible.

“We have a way of making things sound a lot worse than they really are," said reigning Cup champion Joey Logano. "We give you our feelings in the moment, but I think when you take a step back and look at where we are as a sport, as a whole, and the racing that we have, it isn’t that bad.”

Next up is Sunday's race at Talladega Superspeedway, which snaps a month of one road course race and three short track races — four venues scheduled to entice viewership with racing that differs from NASCAR's typical intermediate-sized speedways. But the road course race at Circuit of the Americas in Texas was a chaotic crash-fest, short track stops at Richmond and Bristol had mixed reactions, and finally Martinsville, which didn't produce the action the audience expects.

Now drivers are asking for more horsepower, tires that wear off faster and to eliminate shifting. According to Kevin Harvick, who makes his 800th career start, they also ask for the outlandish.

Harvick, as he prepares to move into the Fox Sports television booth next season, admitted he just tosses out ideas to see what might stick now that an open line of communication has been established with NASCAR.

“I would never tell anybody to not voice their opinion because I think the opinions are what shape our future," Harvick said. "You have to listen to everybody, and when there is somebody who doesn’t like the opinion, we have a group now who will go talk to that individual and say, ‘Hey, tell us more. We want to understand where you’re coming from,’ and it gives them a way to have a voice aside from in (the media center).

“You don’t have to do it in here. Yeah, this is effective if you can’t get very far, but there are other ways to get things accomplished in our garage today.”

Talladega, a 2.66-mile high-speed track prone to create spectacular crashes and surprise winners, on Sunday can change the tone of the conversation permeating the sport.

“Talladega really never doesn’t deliver. It always delivers,” Logano said. “You’re not going to know who is going to win the race going down the backstretch (of the final lap). That’s why fans love it.”

But does that actually make for a great race?

“The problem is 498 miles can be a snoozer,” said Corey Lajoie. “But if you get a green-white-checkered (overtime) and a couple wrecks at the end, people's assumption is the race is ultimately a great race.”


Denny Hamlin won the first superspeedway pole of his career in Saturday qualifying and will lead the field to green. Hamlin, a three-time Daytona 500 winner and two-time winner at Talladega, turned a lap at 180.642 mph to put his Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota in the top starting spot.

“I was well aware that I've never gotten a superspeedway pole,” Hamlin said of the statistic. He has won 36 poles in his career.

Hamlin bumped Aric Almirola in a Ford from Stewart-Haas Racing and Ty Gibbs, Hamlin's teammate at JGR. Chase Briscoe of SHR qualified fourth and was followed by Ryan Blaney of Team Penske. JGR drivers Christopher Bell and and Martin Truex were sixth and seventh, while reigning Cup champion Joey Logano of Penske was eighth.

Kyle Larson, winner last week at Martinsville Speedway, qualified ninth for Hendrick Motorsports and was the only Chevrolet driver to crack the top 10. Chris Buescher in a Ford from Roush Fenway Racing rounded out the top 10.

Ross Chastain, winner of this race a year ago, qualified 23rd for Trackhouse Racing. Chase Elliott, the Talladega winner in October who is making his second consecutive start after missing six with a broken leg, qualified 29th.

Asked what would classify Sunday at Talladega as a good race, William Byron acknowledged the spectacular crashes common to the track would “probably help.”

“If I were watching on TV, I'd probably want it to be chaotic and unpredictable and have different people crashing,” Byron said.

Logano wasn't worried.

“Talladega really never doesn't deliver. It always delivers,” Logano said. “You're not going to know who is going to win the race going down the backstretch (of the final lap). That's why fans love it.”


Logano is the FanDuel favorite to win Sunday, according to FanDuel Sportsbook. ... Daytona 500 winner Ricky Stenhouse Jr. received a new pit crew this week when Roush Fenway Racing recalled its personnel on lease to JTG Daugherty Racing back to service Chris Buescher. Statistics show that Stenhouse's crew logged the sixth-fastest four-tire stop last week at Martinsville, while Buescher's group was 33rd-fastest. “It’s a bummer because we won with most of those guys at Daytona and I think they wanted to stay with us,” Stenhouse said. "It’s the cards we’re dealt now. Should have known that they (RFK) would have played it that way, I guess.” ... NASCAR this week issued another penalty, this time to Austin Dillon and Richard Childress Racing for an unapproved adjustment to the underwing assembly on his Chevrolet. He was docked 60 points, his crew chief suspended two races and dropped from 21st to 29th in the standings. RCR plans to appeal, but Dillon said he'll race the same: “I think NASCAR has really kind of made the series into a must-win. Points aren’t really an option,” Dillon said. “I don’t think anything really changes truthfully on the points side.”


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