Denny Hamlin led a Joe Gibbs Racing sweep of the front row for Sunday's Auto Club 400 at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif. Hamlin, already a winner at Phoenix in 2012 with new crew chief Darian Grubb, timed in at 38.626 seconds and 186.403 mph to lead teammate Kyle Busch, at 185.534 in second. JGR has yet to record a win in Fontana, the only active track on the calendar where that's the case.
Hamlin, Busch and third-starting Mark Martin took three different lines with their Toyotas around the 2.0-mile speedway to record their times. Hamlin was the only one who ran completely around the bottom of the track, and it helped for him to capture the pole.
“The only downside to the high line was facing more head wind for a longer time,” Hamlin said. “It buffered the car but didn't change it too much. Everyone had a different way of doing it. We ran all the way around the bottom.
“We showed some pretty good speed in the first practice that put us in the top five,” he added. “We got a late draw by being fast in practice. It was just extremely fast.”
Busch's lap included running high through turns three and four, a trend he said his teammate Joey Logano started. Logano is in the unfamiliar yellow Dollar General colors on the No. 20 Toyota this weekend, as opposed to the general orange of longtime car primary sponsor Home Depot.
“The day didn't start out so great, but Dave (Rogers, crew chief) and the guys made a bunch of changes for a better handling car,” Busch said. “I've never qualified that high here before and run up so high between 3 and 4. Joey the started trend. Denny ran lower and beat us. But it gets us a good starting spot and pit position for Sunday.”
Martin, running with the “Epic Swag” moniker above his door handle this weekend to out the name of a hacker who compromised his Twitter account, admitted he actually left something on the table.
“Well I told my guys they must have given the fastest car for sure, because I missed the entry to turn one,” Martin said. “For me, anything more than 6 inches up the track, and you're gone. I had to make the best of the lap.”
The theme of the top five would be “fit to be tied,” as Busch and Martin (185.534, 38.807) and fourth and fifth-placed Greg Biffle and Kasey Kahne (185.510, 38.812) ran pairs of identical lap times.
The tiebreaker is top-35 owner points from 2011, as this is the fifth and final race where 2011 owner points will be used to determine the difference before 2012 points take effect at Martinsville next week. Interestingly, Martin's No. 55 car is ahead of Busch's No. 18 on 2012 owner points, after drives by Martin and Brian Vickers through the first four races.
Ryan Newman, Kevin Harvick, Joey Logano, Tony Stewart and Jimmie Johnson completed the top 10 on the grid.
Of the teams and drivers that needed to qualify on time, David Stremme, Josh Wise, Michael McDowell, Dave Blaney, Scott Riggs, JJ Yeley, Mike Bliss and Reed Sorenson made it in. Bliss and Sorenson race for new Cup entrants from Tri-Star Motorsports and Turn One Racing, owned by Randy Humphrey and former NASCAR competitor Stacy Compton, respectively.
Robby Gordon, Joe Nemechek and rookie Timmy Hill failed to qualify. It marks Nemechek's first non-qualification since Phoenix in November 2010.