Pole positions set for Championship 4 and one contender barely makes top 10

This could get interesting.

NASCAR’s newest bad boy everyone loves to hate is making a statement in the final race of the season. Denny Hamlin used the last run of knockout qualifying Friday night to grab the pole position in Sunday’s Ford EcoBoost 400. Hamlin, who’s not part of the Championship 4, will sit on the front row with Martin Truex, Jr.

“Love this racetrack, wish we would have a chance (at title), but it’ll be another day and another year for us,” Hamlin told NBCSN. “I want to win, that’s all I care about.”

Chase Elliott might have something to say about that. He and Hamlin have had an ongoing feud ever since Hamlin denied Elliott a chance at his first Cup win by spinning him out in Martinsville. Then last week in Phoenix, Elliott retaliated by shoving Hamlin’s car into the wall and puncturing a tire, ending Hamlin’s chance to make the final 4. Safe to say the bad blood will continue to flow in the hyped-up atmosphere of the championship race.

Martin Truex, Jr. has a had a fantastic season. Winning his first Cup title would be a fitting end, but he’ll have the pressure of the other 3 contenders right behind him. Kyle Busch, Brad Keselowski and Kevin Harvick will line up third, fifth and ninth, respectively, and all are going for their second Cup title. Still, while Truex, Jr. would have loved to hang onto the pole, he remains confident.

“It definitely was still a really good day,” said Truex, Jr. “I’m just proud of everyone. We did what we needed to do, and we’ll get to work tomorrow. I’m looking forward to it.”

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Kevin Harvick might be the one to watch. Qualifying didn’t go well as he barely cracked the top-10. But Harvick has a tremendous amount of momentum coming into the race. He’s got one win and four consecutive top-eight finishes. Harvick has raced well at the mile and a half tracks of Chicago, Charlotte, Kansas, and Texas.

“There is so much pressure to go down there and be in the Championship 4,” Harvick tells cbssports.com. “But if you are able to be part of the Championship 4, you better be able to win that race.”

Keselowski hasn’t had the best of luck at Homestead.  He’s never won there and has only three top-10 finishes with an average finish of 15.9, a low among the Championship 4. Despite the record, Keselowski speaks fondly of his time in Florida.

“I remember the first time I went to Homestead in 2005 for the truck race and thinking how beautiful it was,” Keselowski told cbssports.com. “It was my first time in Miami, and just the weather and the pretty blue walls. I’ll never forget that.”

On a side note, we’ve reported several times about the dominance of Toyota in 2017. Looking at the first 4 positions for Sunday’s race, the auto manufacturer should be feeling pretty good about their chances of taking the manufacturers title.

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