Denny Hamlin claims pole for Bristol night race

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BRISTOL, Tenn. — Denny Hamlin, searching for anything to save his season, got a slight boost Friday with a pole-winning run at Bristol Motor Speedway.

Hamlin turned a lap 128.969 mph around the 0.533-mile bullring to put his Toyota in the top starting spot for Saturday night’s race. Although it’s his fourth pole of the season, it’s his first career pole at Bristol, where Hamlin is the defending race winner.

But he heads into the race in search of anything positive: He’s 25th in points – largely because he missed four races with a fractured vertebra suffered in a crash at California – and entered Bristol stuck in a miserable nine-race slump in which he hasn’t logged a finish higher than 18th.

Although he wants to win a race, he’ll take any sort of minor victory.

“It’s by far the worst run, these nine races, in my career,” he said. “A lot of it is our own doing. We got off track for a couple races because we’ve blown right front tires in consecutive weeks and we started changing our setups and we couldn’t find anything that was very good with that. That burnt another three, four weeks. We’ve had horsepower cut back. But we’re headed in the right direction.”

Hamlin’s lap was good enough to hold off five-time Bristol winner Kurt Busch, who qualified second with a lap of 128.770. It’s the seventh front-row starting spot of the season for Busch, who is suddenly a hot commodity on the free-agent market with an offer to join Stewart-Haas Racing next season.

NATIONWIDE SERIES: Kyle Busch won the race at Bristol Motor Speedway for his ninth series win of the season.

Busch started from the pole Friday night and led 228 of the 250 laps en route to the 60th series win of his career. It made him 2 for 2 so far this week at Bristol, where he won Wednesday night’s Truck Series race.

Brad Keselowski finished second and was followed by Austin Dillon and Justin Allgaier.

Sam Hornish Jr. entered the race as the Nationwide Series points leader but had a spark plug wire problem and finished 12th.

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