Hamlin, Logano keep title contenders off front row
HOMESTEAD, Fla. (AP) Denny Hamlin and Joey Logano, eliminated from title contention in earlier rounds of NASCAR's playoffs, played spoiler Friday by sweeping the front row for the season-ending race at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
Hamlin, who was eliminated in the second round of the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship, won the pole. Logano, who had the strongest car during the Chase and probably should be in the four-driver finale, qualified second.
''We wish we were a part of it but unfortunately a couple mechanical things took us out of this Chase, but we're going to hopefully go out with a bang,'' said Hamlin, who jokingly referred to himself as ''Mr. Irrelevant.''
Logano, who swept all three races in the third round of the Chase, said a win at Homestead would bookend a season that began with a Daytona 500 victory.
''Is it disappointing we aren't racing with these guys for the championship? Of course it is,'' Logano said. ''We want to be. But it is what it is and we move on.''
The championship will be decided Sunday and go to the highest finishing driver of the final four in the Chase. The four racing for the title are: defending series champion Kevin Harvick, Jeff Gordon, Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr.
Busch posted the third-fastest lap, best among the Chase finalists, and said he leaned on teammate Hamlin for the strong qualifying run.
''That's good company to follow right there with (Hamlin) on the pole,'' Busch said. ''He's obviously one of the best here and I've leaned on him a lot this week and we'll continue to do so here through practice.''
Gordon was fifth in qualifying for the final race of his career. The four-time NASCAR champion is retiring at the end of the season and used three strong runs in qualifying to earn a solid starting spot for what he figures will be one of the most hectic days of his 23-year career.
''I'm anticipating Sunday being truly insane,'' Gordon said. "I'm having a blast. Just seeing people that I grew up racing quarter midgets with, family and friends, and I mean, it's a win-win for me this weekend, no matter what happens.
''Obviously with our effort in qualifying, I think we showed how bad we all want it, to be better than just being here battling for the championship and it being my final race.''
Truex qualified 11th and with Gordon's run in the second round, he prevented Harvick from advancing to the final round of qualifying. Harvick will start 13th, lowest of the Chase finalists.
Harvick didn't seem concerned about the other three title-contenders starting ahead of him.
''It's really no different than any other week,'' he said. ''I mean, we've not qualified as well this year as we had last year, especially on some of these types of racetracks.