Denny Hamlin Takes Pole Position at Nashville

Denny Hamlin claimed his second pole position of the season and 42nd of his decorated career Saturday afternoon just bettering his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Christopher Bell to earn the top starting position for Sunday’s Ally 400 at Nashville Superspeedway (3:30 p.m. ET, NBC, PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).

Hamlin’s No. 11 JGR Toyota turned a fast lap of 160.354 mph (29.859-seconds) around the 1.333-mile oval – only .095-second fastest than Bell – to claim his second Nashville pole position in the four races the track has hosted.

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“Felt pretty good about it all day,’’ the 43-year-old Hamlin said, “seems like we definitely have fixed some of the things we weren’t very good with last year.

“I definitely feel pretty good about it and we’ll certainly work on it overnight to make it a little bit better and I feel pretty confident that tomorrow we’ll be in contention,” he added.”

With a new format to set the starting grid, it puts the pole winner in position one and divides the remaining drivers through first five rows by speed and qualifying group, so Stewart-Haas Racing’s Josh Berry – who was third quickest – will start his No. 4 Ford on the outside of the front row Sunday. Bell will start third.

Hamlin is hoping the good start position will translate into a solid finishing position. The three-race winner this season has finished 24th or worse in the last three races and is ready to get back on track before the summer break in competition in three weeks. Hamlin has a pair of top-10 finishes in the three-race Nashville Superspeedway history, including a best showing of third place last year.

Bell will start on the second row alongside Hendrick Motorsports’ Kyle Larson, who co-leads the NASCAR Cup Series championship standings with his Hendrick teammate Chase Elliott and was fastest in the Group A first round qualifiers.

Roush Fenway Keselowski owner/driver Brad Keselowski will start alongside 23XI Racing’s Tyler Reddick on row three with Hendrick Motorsports’ William Byron and Joe Gibbs Racing’s Ty Gibbs on the fourth row and RFK Racing’s Chris Buescher and Team Penske’s Austin Cindric starting their Fords on row five. It’s the best start for Buescher in the last six weeks.

Defending race winner Ross Chastain will roll off 20th. Elliott will start 13th.

Gibbs (159.287 mph), Ryan Blaney, Bubba Wallace and Chastain were fastest in Saturday’s practice session.

Rivalry? What Rivalry?

In the midst of their matching three-win seasons, Hamlin and Larson have raced hard, door-to-door often this season resulting sometimes in hard feelings and damaged race cars. However, the two golfing buddies, have never made it a huge public issue.

Asked about the style of racing between the pair and if it was actually a true rivalry, Hamlin wouldn’t go that far.

“I don’t know I just think there’s different [kinds of rivalries] ones for sure,’’ Hamlin said. “I think there are rivalries that come from drivers that probably don’t respect each other. They have a lot of speed, but don’t like each other or deliberately run into each other.

“I don’t think anyone’s deliberately running into each other, although it does happen. Certainly I’ve had my fair of mistakes and he’s been on the bad end of those but it’s come from competition, wanting to beat him. He’s one of the guys, one of the best in our sport, if not THE best. So I challenge myself more when I get to race with him and it does happen often and it does happen towards the front more times than not.

“We know each other’s driving styles and we do things around one another that combat passing each other and that usually means there’s tight quarters conditions.’’

Chastain Looks To Go Back-To-Back

Defending Nashville race winner Ross Chastain likes his chances to become the track’s first repeat winner. The driver of the No. 1 Trackhouse Racing Chevrolet is still racing for his first win of the season, although he is ranked 12th in the current 16-driver Playoff standings based on points.

The 31-year-old Floridian has seven top-10 finishes and a pair of top-fives this season with 118 laps led and one stage win. Yet his consistency – an 12th place average finish – has kept him high in the standings and ranked among those with wins already.

A good showing this weekend is especially important to him and it has been a venue where he has shined. Chastain has never finished worse than fifth in the three Nashville races with a runner-up (2021) and fifth place effort (2022) in addition to his win last year.

“This town means a lot to our team,’’ Chastain said of Nashville, noting that is where Trackhouse Racing team’s executive headquarters is based.

“To finish fifth and first with Trackhouse has been great, there’ve been some good parties at Tootsie’s after these races I can tell you,’’ Chastain said with a smile.

As for securing that first victory of 2024, “Just need a little more speed,’’ he said, adding, “Now the entire sport is trying to do that so it doesn’t matter if you’re leading, you want to be a half-tenth better or if you’re 30th you want to be that half-tenth better.

“For us, I feel like we’re a really consistent 10th-place car. A good restart, we’ll go to sixth and a bad restart, I go to 14th. So, it’s just a little bit, it’s just crumbs now to get to that top five. And then you see it, with top fives then you win. You put yourself in position.”

Berry Looking To Build

Stewart-Haas Racing’s Josh Berry comes to Nashville after tying his best showing of the season with a third-place finish at New Hampshire last week. The Tennessee-native certainly holds high hopes for Sunday’s NASCAR Cup Series debut at his home-state venue and for his chances to win before the Playoffs start Sept. 8 at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

The four-car SHR team – as it has operated – announced it would be dissolving at the end of the year and Berry, along with teammates Chase Briscoe, Noah Gragson and Ryan Preece are now left to find work elsewhere. Joe Gibbs Racing announced this week that in 2025, Briscoe will fill the seat in the No. 19 Toyota left by retiring driver Martin Truex Jr. The other drivers, however, are still racing for their futures.

Berry, in his first full season of NASCAR Cup Series competition, believes he won’t only make the Playoffs based on points, but can win a race. And he was optimistic about being able to stay in NASCAR’s premier series going forward, encouraged by his recent pace – four top-10 finishes in the last six weeks.

“I feel good about having a spot in the Cup Series next year, I think our results have been really strong the last couple months,’’ said Berry, who has two top-five finishes in three NASCAR Xfinity Series starts at Nashville. “I don’t really know other than winning a race at this point, is all I can do. We’ve finished in the top five, we’ve led laps, we’ve shown the potential of what we can do.

“I think that’s been a big confidence boost for me and I really think the whole situation for myself and my team, you really find out a lot about yourself when your back is against the wall and everyone’s performing at a really high level.

“We’re fighting together.

“I’m at my best when my back is against the wall and I have to perform,’’ he added.

Heat Wave

Temperatures in the Nashville area have been in the high 90s this week with “feels like” marks well above 100 degrees with a heat advisory issued for the region. Drivers and teams concede it’s the hottest NASCAR race weekend so far, but their concerns are as much for the fans in the grandstands as for themselves. The drivers say they try to always be ready for conditions like this.

“Just a lot of preparation during the week, I’m sure everyone trains a little differently hydrating, training, all the things you think your body needs to do better,’’ Hendrick Motorsports’ driver William Byron said of the weather.

“It’ll be a true test for all of us. I think the weather backs off a little tomorrow and won’t be as bad as today, but you have to do a good job internally to manage that stress and make sure you’re able to make good decisions through the heat.’’

— NASCAR Wire Service —

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