BRISTOL, Tenn. (AP) — Denny Hamlin has passed pre-race inspection and his car will start on the pole Saturday night at Bristol Motor Speedway.
The Daytona 500 winner gave both Toyota and Joe Gibbs Racing its first pole of the season in qualifying, but the result was not official until after inspection began hours before the race.
Bristol marks a stretch of three final regular season races with seven open spots in the upcoming playoff field. Nine winners have already claimed berths in the 16-driver field.
Among those on the outside of the top 16 in standings and winless on the season is seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson, who has never missed the playoffs since they began in 2004. He qualified 30th.
Eight-time Bristol winner Kyle Busch had a rough qualifying run and starts 31st. Busch, winner at Bristol in the spring, has only started lower than 31st at this .533-mile concrete bullring three times in 28 career starts.
Drivers and Speedway Motorsports Inc., owner of the race track, are at odds over treatment to the top racing line around the short track.
Hamlin and Busch were among those who claimed the upper groove at Bristol had been “ground or polished” before the weekend. They were critical of the action and took pointed shots at SMI officials for not conferring with teams before altering the surface.
But SMI CEO Marcus Smith struck back and posted on Twitter that there was no grinding to the upper groove and “actually we just cleaned off the upper groove. No grinding. Just excellent racing surface maintenance from our team.”