Denny Hamlin grabs Homestead pole, Martin Truex Jr. also on front row

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Denny Hamlin was last to make a final qualifying run but took the pole for Sunday’s and championship-deciding Ford EcoBoost 400.

Hamlin (173.980 mph) knocked Martin Truex Jr. (173.952) off the pole with a bonsai run around the 1.5-mile Homestead-Miami Speedway.

“Love this racetrack, wish we would have a chance, but it’ll be another day and another year for us,” Hamlin told NBCSN. “I want to win, that’s all I care about.”

This is Hamlin’s second pole of his career (and second in the last three races) at Homestead, where he’s also a two-time Cup winner.

Truex is the highest qualifying driver of the four Championship 4 contestants.

“It was a good day overall,” Truex told NBCSN. “Hopefully, we’ll just make some minor adjustments (in Saturday’s two practice sessions) and get comfortable and get ready to race on Sunday.”

The other drivers are: Kyle Busch (qualified third, 173.930), Brad Keselowski (fifth, 172.452) and Kevin Harvick was the slowest of the four (ninth, 171.876).

“Not a bad lap, definitely was pole-worthy, so I hate that we weren’t able to get the No. 1 pit stall,” Busch told NBCSN. “I think we’re further ahead than we were 2015 when we won the whole thing.”

Keselowski told NBCSN: “It sure doesn’t feel bad, but there’s a long way to go. It’s just one day of a three-day weekend. … This is like a poker game. This is the deal, it’s qualifying. Tomorrow you start to see the turn of the cards with race trim. We’re not in a bad spot, not where we want to be, we still need a little speed obviously to run with the Toyotas, but we’re kind of first in class (among Ford teams) today.”

Harvick said to NBCSN: “Not exactly how I wanted it to go, but all-in-all I think we’re going to be fine. It’s not like we’re starting 39th or something.”

In addition to Hamlin, non-championship drivers that qualified in the top 12 include Matt Kenseth (fourth, 172.678), Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (sixth, 172.359), Kyle Larson (seventh, 172.205), Kurt Busch (eighth, 172.106), Daniel Suarez (10th, 171.789), Ryan Blaney (11th, 171.255) and Trevor Bayne (12th, 171.124).

Dale Earnhardt Jr. will start last because of an engine change in practice Friday. … Danica Patrick, who announced she will race next year in the Daytona 500 and Indianapolis 500 before retiring, qualified 25th. … Sunday’s race will have 39 cars in the field.

Click here for qualifying results.

NASCAR America: Steve Letarte: Denny Hamlin showing ‘remarkable consistency’

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Things have been going relatively well for Denny Hamlin on the track in 2018.

The Joe Gibbs Racing driver enters this weekend’s race at Martinsville Speedway sixth in points. Through five races, he’s finished outside the top six once (17th, Las Vegas).

NASCAR America’s Steve Letarte, Dale Jarrett and Nate Ryan discussed his season so far in addition to Stewart-Haas Racing and Team Penske.

Letarte said Hamlin has displayed “remarkable consistency.”

“Denny Hamlin is in my mind a super star driver that I know I am guilty of leaving him out of super star conversations,” Letarte said.

Ryan pointed to mistakes on pit road that have prevented Hamlin from enjoying more success this season and in his career overall. His result at Las Vegas was the result of a speeding penalty.

“Five races this season, four pit mistakes,” Ryan said. “He overshot his box at Daytona, he did that at Fontana, he sped in the pits at Phoenix. While I think they’ve had speed, I think that team is still stumbling in the same ways it has in the past. Unless they correct that, I don’t know if they’re championship level yet.”

Hamlin heads to Martinsville where he has won a career-best five races.

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Trevor Bayne on Charlotte Roval: ‘You have to be on your game’

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Rain washed out the second day of Goodyear tire testing Wednesday on Charlotte Motor Speedway’s Roval. Goodyear has tentatively scheduled May 1 as a make-up test date.

Trevor Bayne, Kyle Busch, Paul Menard and Kyle Larson took part in the test Tuesday.

“I just took some slow pace laps and got a feel for the race track,” Bayne said in a statement from Charlotte Motor Speedway. “I was nervous, but I wasn’t anxious because I was never going to go out there and make qualifying laps. We worked our pace in and our plan, we stuck to it. I felt really good by the end of the day.

“You have to be on your game, that’s for sure. You can’t really let your guard down anywhere. There’s no room to make mistakes. If you make a mistake, you’re going to pay for it pretty quickly. If you try to do something and it doesn’t work, you’ll pay the price. It’s going to be a survival race. … If you’re smart, you take care of your car and you don’t make mistakes, you’ll have a really good shot at the end for a good finish. I enjoyed it. It was a challenge for me – something new – and I enjoyed that part of it.”

Organizational tests at Charlotte will be in July. There will be two different sessions. Each team is allowed to test at one of the two sessions, which will be July 10 (rain date of July 11) and July 17 (rain date of July 18).

The Charlotte Roval hosts the final race of the first round of the Cup playoffs on Sept. 30 on NBC.

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NASCAR issues two fines for unsecured lug nuts at Auto Club Speedway

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NASCAR announced two crew chief fines for unsecured lug nuts last weekend at Auto Club Speedway.

Adam Stevens, crew chief on Kyle Busch‘s No. 18 Toyota, was fined $10,000 for one unsecured lug nut.

In the Xfinity Series, Eric Phillips, the crew chief for Ryan Preece‘s No. 18 Toyota, was fined $5,000 for an unsecured lug nut.

No other penalties were announced.

NASCAR America at 5 p.m. ET: Drivers to watch, favorite sports upsets

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Today’s episode of NASCAR America airs from 5-6 p.m. ET on NBCSN and begins to look forward to this weekend’s racing at Martinsville Speedway.

Marty Snider hosts with Dale Jarrett, Steve Letarte and Nate Ryan from the “Big Oak Table” in Charlotte.

What to expect from today’s show.

  • The same names have been dominating the headlines in the first five races in the 2018 season. We will take a look at some of the other drivers to be on the lookout for as the season rolls on.
  • One of NASCAR’s most historic tracks is up this weekend – Martinsville! We’ll check out some of the recent drama “The Paperclip” has provided ahead of the race.
  • In the spirit of March Madness, our panel will tell us about their most memorable sports moments, as well as some of NASCAR’s biggest upsets.
  • Plus, The Indianapolis 500 will have a new home in 2019. We’ll have all the details on NASCAR America.

If you plan to stream the show on your laptop or portable device, be sure to have your username and password from your cable/satellite/telco provider handy so your subscription can be verified.

Once you enter that information, you’ll have access to the stream.

Click here at 5 p.m. ET to watch live via the stream.