Bristol, TN (SportsNetwork.com) - Denny Hamlin won the pole for the Food City 500 after beating Brad Keselowski by 0.003 seconds in Friday's qualifying at Bristol Motor Speedway.
Hamlin, the driver of the No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota, set a new track qualifying record at Bristol with a lap at 129.991 mph. He surpassed the previous record of 129.535 mph, set by his JGR teammate, Kyle Busch, one year ago. Hamlin claimed his 18th career pole in the Sprint Cup Series. He won the pole for the night race at Bristol last August.
This was the first time NASCAR's new knockout-style of qualifying was used on a short track. It was also the first for the new rules package with the cars.
Earlier this week, NASCAR tweaked the qualifying format due to recent safety concerns and issues with teams cooling down their engines. Teams were allowed to use a cool-down unit to lower engine temperatures. NASCAR also banned cool- down laps during qualifying.
"It's faster than I've ever imagined going around this track," Hamlin said. "Every new rules changes that we have makes these cars go a little bit faster. [Crew chief] Darian [Grubb] made an excellent call with our adjustments."
Hamlin made only lap during the first 30-minute round in qualifying and then just two laps during the final 10-minute round.
"We were pretty strategic in how we executed that qualifying session," he said. "Keselowski, with some laps on his tires, put one down there. We thought that it was going to be one and done for us. We felt like one good effort would do it in that final round. Luckily, we didn't have to go back out there. We're not sure if we would have made it on time."
Keselowski turned a lap at 129.965 mph to grab a front row starting position for the third consecutive race. The Team Penske driver won the pole two weeks ago at Phoenix and the qualified second to teammate Joey Logano last week at Las Vegas. Keselowski went on to win the race at Las Vegas.
"Denny did a good job of getting his lap in early and putting the least amount of time on his tires," Keselowski said. "My team did a great job and got me another front row start. That's always good at Bristol, because track position is important."
Matt Kenseth, who is Hamlin's teammate, qualified third, while Logano took the fourth spot. Marcos Ambrose placed fifth. Kenseth won last year's night race here.
Finishing sixth through 12th were: Jeff Gordon, Busch, Greg Biffle, Ryan Newman, Kasey Kahne, who won last year's spring race at Bristol, Jimmie Johnson, the six-time and defending Sprint Cup champion, and Carl Edwards.
Kurt Busch missed advancing into the second and final round of qualifying at this 0.533-mile short track by only 0.001 seconds. Busch will start 13th in Sunday's 500-lap race at Bristol.
"When you're measuring things in the thousands-of-a-second, it's so tight," Kurt Busch said. "We made a mistake when we went out too early in that run. But this is leaps and bounds ahead of where we were at Phoenix and Las Vegas, with our front splitter control."
Dale Earnhardt Jr., the current points leader and Daytona 500 winner, was 14th.
Danica Patrick qualified 36th, while her team owner, Tony Stewart, placed 38th and had to take a provisional. Patrick was one of several drivers who crashed during practice earlier in the day and had to switch to a backup car.
David Reutimann and Dave Blaney failed to qualify.