Denny Hamlin charges to pole position for NASCAR Cup race at Sonoma

Denny Hamlin made the most of a second lap in the final round of Saturday’s qualifying to edge Tyler Reddick for the pole position for Sunday’s Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Sonoma Raceway (3:30 p.m. ET on FOX, PRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).

Running the fastest lap of the day, Hamlin toured the 1.99-mile road course in 77.719 seconds (92.178 mph) to earn his second Busch Light Pole Award of the season, his first at Sonoma and the 38th of his career.

Reddick had covered the distance in 77.812 seconds (92.068 mph) before Hamlin knocked him off the provisional pole late in the session.

Michael McDowell, who posted the fastest lap in Round 1, qualified third at 92.060 mph, followed by Christopher Bell (91.308 mph) and road course ace AJ Allmendinger (91.873 mph). Sunoco rookie Ty Gibbs was sixth fastest, and Chris Buescher, the 2022 Sonoma runner-up, was seventh.

Interestingly, crew chief Chris Gabehart suggested to Hamlin that he settle for his first lap in the final round. At the time, Hamlin was second fastest.

“Chris was trying to get me to unbuckle after our first lap in the final round,” Hamlin said. “He was like, ‘That’s a great day, that’s a good starting spot,’ and I just asked like ‘You don’t want me to try again—I feel like maybe I could do it.’

“And so I’m glad that we did try again.’”

Seeking his first career Cup Series pole, McDowell was frustrated with his third-place result, which matched his finishing position in last year’s race.

“I think we had the car to beat today, so that’s what stinks about qualifying third,” McDowell said. “I feel good about our race trim. The cars I outqualified there I felt like we were way better in race trim. The only one I felt that was better than us was maybe the 5 (Kyle Larson), so we’ve got a good car for (Sunday) and we’ll get after it.

“It’s good to be disappointed with third. I haven’t had a career pole here in the Cup Series, so I was hoping today would be it. I gave it all I had and just a little bit too much and over-stepped it.”

The surprise of the session was Larson, who failed to advance to the second round after topping the speed chart in final NASCAR Cup Series practice by .558 seconds over Martin Truex Jr., who claimed the eighth starting position for Sunday’s race, the 16th of the season.

Larson had started from the pole for the last five Sonoma races, winning once, in 2021. Earlier in the day, he won the pole for Saturday night’s NASCAR Xfinity Series race.

Chase Elliott, returning from a one-race suspension for wrecking Hamlin in the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte, made one attempt during Saturday’s final round but slid sideways in Turn 4 before regaining control.

The bobble cost Elliott precious time and dropped him to 10th on the grid next to defending race winner Daniel Suarez, who qualified ninth.