Hamlin won his 10th career pole in Friday’s qualifying session, and teammate Kyle Busch joined him in the top two spots in Fontana.
Hamlin turned a lap of 186.403 mph in his Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota by picking a lower line than Busch and most of their competitors. Mark Martin, who finished third in a Toyota for Michael Waltrip Racing, went straight down the middle.
“Everyone had a different way of doing it,” Hamlin said. “It seemed like there were some guys that were five lanes up, and some that worked their way down. We were one of the few cars that ran all the way on the bottom.”
Hamlin earned his first top-10 start this season, along with qualification for next year’s Shootout at Daytona. Hamlin, who previously won the pole in Fontana in October 2009, welcomed the strong start after winning once last season and changing crew chiefs.
“Even though we’ve ran sub-par these last couple weeks, everyone is still in a good mood and still happy about where we’re at and where we’re heading,” Hamlin said. “That’s something that we did lose in 2011.”
Busch and Martin finished with the exact same time and speed, but Busch took second in a tiebreaker based on owners’ points. Busch hopes the strong lap leads to better results after his own slow start to the season.
“It’s cool to have our teammate right up there with us to sit on the front row, so hopefully we can stay there,” said Busch, who finished 32rd at Bristol last week after wrecking in the 24th lap. “It hasn’t just been last week. It’s been this whole year so far. We just haven’t quite got our stride yet. Looking to have another solid run like we did, just maybe keep ourselves in position.”
Martin didn’t expect a good time after miscalculating his line, but he ended up with his 11th career top-10 start in Fontana.
“I told my guys they must have given me the fastest race car for sure, because I kind of missed the corner,” Martin said. “To me, anything 6 inches off the bottom is getting high. I was up in the middle of the race track and had to make the best of the lap. I was incredibly proud of being third, because usually when I miss it like that, I’m 25th.”
Sprint Cup points leader Greg Biffle was fourth in his Roush Fenway Racing Ford, and Kasey Kahne was an encouraging fifth in his Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet after a rough start to the season. Ryan Newman was sixth, followed by Kevin Harvick, Joey Logano, Tony Stewart and Jimmie Johnson.