HOMESTEAD, Fla — On a morning that saw 5 of the 8 championship eligible drivers fail to make the final round of NASCAR Cup Series qualifying from the Homestead-Miami Speedway, 2 of the 3 that did belonged to the Hendrick Motorsports camp as they took 2 of the top 3 starting spots for Sunday’s race.
On the pole was William Byron who earned his 8th career Busch Light Pole Award by turning a speed of 166.389 mph in his No. 24 Chevrolet. Byron won last year’s race from the 31st starting spot so being 30 spots close to the front bodes well for him. He’s started in the top 3 now in 3 straight weeks including 4 of the last 5 at that.
Chase Elliott will start 3rd in his No. 9 Chevrolet for his 1st top 5 starting spot in the last 8 races on the season. He started 5th and finished 2nd here in 2020.
Kyle Larson also starts 5th for the HMS camp and where this is key is, 7 of the last 9 winners came from the top 5 of the starting lineup.
Joining them in the top 5 is Christopher Bell who shares the front row with Byron in his No. 20 Toyota for his 5th top 5 starting spot in the last 9 races on the season and John Hunter Nemechek who was really impressive in his reserve role for the suspended Bubba Wallace in the No. 45 Toyota. His teammate Ty Gibbs starts 6th in his No. 23 Toyota.
Tyler Reddick looked best in practice and rolls off 7th in his No. 8 Chevrolet. Both RFK Racing cars made the final round and will start 8th and 9th respectively while AJ Allmendinger rounded out the top 10.
Penske Cars Struggle
Leaving the test here a few weeks ago, everyone was raving on how the Team Penske cars looked. After showing strong improvement in the last two 1.5-mile tracks, including Joey Logano winning last weekend in Las Vegas, most figured they’d be a threat to win Sunday’s race. However, none of the three made the final round of qualifying on Saturday.
Ryan Blaney starts 13th, Joey Logano 17th and Austin Cindric 26th.
Hamlin Warned Of Qualifying Struggles
Denny Hamlin had started on the pole in 6 of the last 7 Homestead Cup races including 5 straight. However, he warned a bad qualifying effort could happen on Saturday. Which is why it’s not too surprising that he’ll roll off 14th.
”It’s up to me and the engineers and Chris Gabehart to figure out how we can come off the truck better (for qualifying),” Hamlin said. In qualifying, all of us were kind of off. It’s just something we have to work on. “Right now, I don’t believe we’re the heat by any means, but we’re executing well, and that’s something we didn’t do well early in the season. I love (Homestead) for sure. We unloaded best, but the field caught up to us (at the test). It’s a track I love racing at, the driver can make a difference with so many options. In the end, have to execute and not make any mistakes.”
7 of the last 9 Homestead winners came from the top 5 of the starting lineup. 4 of the last 6 at Martinsville came from the top 5 including 11 of the last 13 coming from the top 10.
7 of Hamlin’s last 10 qualifying efforts have seen him start outside the top 10. He qualified 24th on the ROVAL and 31st last week in Vegas. If they want a chance, they have to qualify better.
The Ford’s were the favorites here after the test but after qualifying, they could have a sense of panic. Ford has won 1 of the last 11 at Homestead and had just 2 cars make the final round of qualifying and have just 2 cars in the top 6 of the starting lineup at that.