BRISTOL, Tenn. — Denny Hamlin was confident Friday he had a car good enough to contend for the win in Sunday's NASCAR Sprint Cup race.
But earning the pole? That was a surprise.
Hamlin claimed the top starting position for the Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway with a track-record average lap of 129.991, breaking the 129.535 set by Kyle Busch one year ago.
Hamlin was third in the first qualifying elimination session and needed just one run in the final 10-minute dash.
"I was way more excited about my car in race trim than I was qualifying," said Hamlin, who earned his first pole the season, 18th of his career. "Our car was super consistent, didn't fall off — it's everything that you need to win a race here."
Brad Keselowski (129.965) of Team Penske will line up second, his third straight front-row start. Hamlin's teammates, Matt Kenseth and Busch, will start third and seventh, respectively.
Danica Patrick wrecked just minutes into the first practice. In all, four drivers had to go to backup cars, including Busch.
Tampa's Aric Almirola (127.605) qualified 23rd.
Formula One: Mercedes confirmed its status as the favorite to win the season-opening Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne, setting the fastest two times in practice with Lewis Hamilton edging Nico Rosberg with a lap of 1 minute, 29.625 seconds. This weekend's race is the first since the series introduced a sweeping set of changes to cars, including less aerodynamic downforce, the use of heat and kinetic energy-storage systems for extra horsepower, and a 220-pound limit on fuel in races.
IndyCar: Verizon signed a multiyear naming agreement, making the telecommunications giant the title sponsor of the series. The season opens March 30 in St. Petersburg.
Motorcycles: Danny Eslick, riding a Triumph, earned the pole for Sunday's Daytona 200 AMA SportBike race at Daytona International Speedway with a lap of 1:49.292 on the 3.51-mile road course.