Hamlin takes pole for Pocono 500


Saturday, June 10th 2006, 12:32 pm
By: News On 6


LONG POND, Pennsylvania (AP) _ Denny Hamlin had never seen Pocono Raceway until he arrived at the triangle track Friday morning.

The rookie proved to be a fast learner, turning a lap of 169.638 mph (273.006 kph) only hours later to take the pole for Sunday's Pocono 500. It was the first pole of the season for the No. 11 Ford.

Much like Carl Edwards prepared before his win in this race last year, Hamlin played videogames to learn some of the intricacies of the 2 1/2-mile (4-kilometer) triangle track.

``I got on that all week,'' Hamlin said. ``I got a little bit of experience that way. You just can't beat on-track experience.''

Never mind top NASCAR rookie honors. Hamlin seems poised to enter the Chase thanks to a string of solid races that include five top-10 finishes. He finished second at Richmond four races ago, and hopes his steady racing will carry over into a spot down the stretch for the title.

``It's time to go if you're going to make it in the Chase and we're sitting in a good spot right now,'' Hamlin said.

Hamlin's other career pole was last November in Phoenix. He holds a 14-point lead over Clint Bowyer in the rookie standings and a rookie has now won a pole in each of the last 11 seasons.

Kurt Busch joins Hamlin on the front row after a lap of 169.485. (272.760 kph) Kasey Kahne starts third and Brian Vickers, who asked for and received permission from Hendrick Motorsports to look for a new ride, is fourth. Jeff Burton rounds out the top five.

``I really thought we picked up the right amount of speed,'' Busch said.

Nextel Cup points leader Jimmie Johnson is 10th.

Hamlin sits 11th in the points standings, 519 points behind Johnson and 80 behind Busch for 10th place. But he's also in a pack of drivers that include Greg Biffle, Casey Mears, Carl Edwards and Jamie McMurray who all within striking distance of qualifying for the Chase.

``We've got to try our best to stay solid every single week,'' Hamlin said. ``It's just all about bad luck and trying to reduce it as much as you can the first 25 races.''

Edwards has a toughest assignment than last year's June race when he set a Pocono record for winning from the deepest in the field. He started 29th last year.

Edwards, who will compete in the Busch series race Saturday night, starts a disappointing 40th on Sunday.

``It won't matter that much,'' Edwards said. ``We could start last. If you have the fastest car here, you can usually get to the front pretty well.''