Column By: REID SPENCER / NASCAR – LEBANON, TN – A great first lap and a sudden rainstorm were all Denny Hamlin needed to win the pole position for Sunday’s Ally 400 NASCAR Cup Series race at Nashville Superspeedway (5 p.m. ET on USA, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).
With his 23XI Racing team co-owner Michael Jordan watching the action, Hamlin was fastest in the first round of qualifying with a lap in 29.848 seconds (160.413 mph), and when an unexpected downpour forced cancelation of the final round, the driver of the No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota earned the first starting position for the 17th event on the NASCAR Cup Series schedule.
With the final round rained out, starting positions were determined by Round 1 speeds.
Hamlin edged Joey Logano (160.107 mph) for the pole by .057 seconds . Logano topped the chart in Group B after Hamlin was fastest in Group A.
The Busch Pole Award was Hamlin’s first at Nashville, his second of the season and the 35th of his career.
Defending race winner and reigning Cup Series champion Kyle Larson qualified third at 159.963 mph, followed by Hendrick Motorsports teammate Chase Elliott at 159.931 mph. Daniel Suarez and Ryan Blaney qualified on Row 3.
Bubba Wallace, who drives for Hamlin and Jordan at 23XI, was fast in practice but couldn’t back up his speed in time trials. Wallace will start 30th on Sunday.
“I told him (Jordan) he should have stayed in the bus,” Hamlin said with a chuckle. “He agreed. It’s pressure. There’s a lot of pressure when he’s out there.
“Bubba was fast. He blew by us and left us by a straightaway (Friday) in the first round of practice… When I saw him driving into Turn 1 on TV (in qualifying), he carried a tremendous amount of speed, and obviously, it didn’t stick.”
Hamlin’s Joe Gibbs Racing teammate, Kyle Busch, didn’t complete a qualifying lap. He spun in Turn 3 in Round 1 and backed his No. 18 Toyota into the outside wall. Busch will start last (36th) on Sunday.
Competitive fire brings Truex back for another year at JGR
After considerable soul-searching, Martin Truex Jr. decided to return to Joe Gibbs Racing for another season in the No. 19 Toyota.
The 2017 NASCAR Cup Series champion told reporters of his decision Friday in a question-and-answer session in the Nashville Superspeedway media center.
Joe Gibbs Racing subsequently released a statement featuring a typically terse comment from Truex: “I’m coming back.”
“The competitive side of me said, ‘I’m not done, and keep fighting,’ so here we are,” Truex told reporters. “I tried to just think about all of this myself and figure it out.
“Friends and family helped as well. I just wanted to look and make sure I was doing the right thing. I wanted to make sure if I kept going, I was going to be happy with the decision.”
The affable driver from Mayetta, New Jersey, who will turn 42 on Wednesday, won his series title with Furniture Row Racing in 2017. Since joining JGR in 2019, Truex has accumulated 12 victories but none so far this year. He’s currently sixth in the Cup standings.
Asked whether he would find himself in the same position at this point next season, Truex said: “Probably. I’m the world’s worst procrastinator.”
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. stays with JTG-Daughtery Racing in multiyear deal
Martin Truex Jr. wasn’t the only driver with contract news on Friday. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. revealed he had re-signed with JTG-Daugherty Racing in a multiyear deal whose specific terms were not disclosed.
Stenhouse has two career victories, both recorded on superspeedways with Roush Fenway Keselowski Racing in 2017. Through 16 races this season, he has posted one top five (a runner-up finish at Dover) and is 24th in the series standings.
Nevertheless, Stenhouse thinks he and JTG-Daugherty are a good fit, and he believes the Next Gen race car introduced this season will help elevate the team’s performance.
“I really have enjoyed my time at JTG-Daugherty Racing,” said Stenhouse, who joined the organization in 2020. “I feel like we haven’t had the end results, points-wise. But I feel like we’ve had so many bright spots throughout our first few seasons together.
“I feel like with this new car—we were hoping to have it last year (before the COVID-19 pandemic intervened) and continue to build on that. Obviously, this is the first year with it. So I know for me and the way this car has been, I feel like at certain race tracks we kind of have it figured out.
“And then there are other race tracks where we’re pretty out to lunch, and we’re still looking for those parts and pieces to be in the right spot to be fast.”
Kyle Busch gets first look at North Wilkesboro during “alien abduction”
During the filming of a new commercial for the return of Toyota “Sponsafier” campaign, Kyle Busch got his first look inside North Wilkesboro Speedway, which will undergo a series of transformations later this year.
In the new ad titled “Alien,” Busch watches as his brother Kurt is beamed up into a spaceship and presumably carried away. (Spoiler alert: Kurt was back in time for practice and qualifying at Nashville Superspeedway.)
During the filming, however, Kyle Busch saw the potential of North Wilkesboro, which will return to action in August with a month of late-model races, after which the pavement will be removed to accommodate a slate of dirt races in October.
A repave will follow, with the hope of possible NASCAR racing at in the future of the historic track.
“It can be successful, and it can turn into something nice,” Busch said. “So I’m looking forward to it, if they put something there. I think it would be sweet. I know, from my understanding anyways, I know Dale (Earnhardt Jr.) is looking forward to running a late model stock race if he can.
“And so, you know, it’d be nice to see that place come back to life, and whether it’s an All-Star Race or a Truck race or Xfinity, whatever, I think that we can make something happen there for sure.”