NASCAR: Hamlin hit by love bug at Dover

Qualifies first at track formerly his least favorite

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DOVER, Del. -- Could it really be true love between Denny Hamlin and Dover?

So far, it's at least a crush.

His performance today will really determine the fate of this relationship.

Trying his best to adjust his approach toward his least-favorite track, Hamlin's reignited courtship produced fantastic results Saturday when he turned a lap of 159.299 mph to win the pole at Dover International Speedway.

Hamlin has been open in his disdain for the 1-mile concrete oval and knew he would have to conquer his Dover demons to keep his driven bid for his first career Cup championship rolling.

Hamlin, third in the points standings, turned to a sports psychologist for advice. The message for Hamlin was this, "Let your challenge for the week be to fall in love with this track."

Hamlin said the good karma, and a great No. 11 Toyota, all played a part in the turnaround.

"I think that right now we have everything rolling," Hamlin said. "That part of it is giving me a ton of confidence."

Hamlin is six points behind Brad Keselowski and seven points behind leader Jimmie Johnson.

Johnson starts 11th as he chases history at Dover. He raced his way into the track's history books in June with his seventh win on the concrete, matching the mark held by Hall of Fame drivers Richard Petty and Bobby Allison.

No active driver owns the track like five-time Sprint Cup champion. Johnson led 289 of the 400 laps and looked every bit like the driver who swept the two Cup races at Dover in 2002 and 2009. Johnson also won at Dover September 2010 and won the September 2005 race.

Dover traditionally has given Hamlin fits. He has an average finish of 20.5 in 13 career starts at Dover. He finished 36th or worse in a four-race stretch from 2007-09. He's said he just doesn't like the track known as the Monster Mile.

Here's a curve. On Saturday, he talked about winning.

"We've got a car that's very capable of staying in the front and hopefully we'll have a shot to win," Hamlin said.

Hamlin won his 12th career pole, third this season, and, no surprise here, his first pole at Dover. He had never started better than third.

Hamlin praised crew chief Darian Grubb, who led Tony Stewart to the championship last year, for putting the No. 11 in position to take the pole.

"I think there's a lot of drivers out there that could be able to do what I do with the cars that Darian has been giving me the last few weeks," Hamlin said. "I'm going to give him pretty much all the credit and ride his back as long as it will hold me."

Nine other Chase for the Sprint Cup championship drivers filled the top 13. Clint Bowyer starts second and Martin Truex Jr. is third. Greg Biffle and Jeff Gordon start sixth and seventh. Kasey Kahne, Keselowski, Johnson, Matt Kenseth and Kevin Harvick are ninth through 13th.

Nationwide

Joey Logano dominated on the concrete Saturday to win the Nationwide Series race at Dover. Logano raced to series-leading victory of the season, winning for the 16th time in NASCAR's second-tier circuit. Paul Menard was second, followed by Michael Arnett, points leader Elliott Sadler and Kyle Busch. Logano swept the Dover races this season.

Today

• Race: AAA 400, the third race in the Chase for the Champions, Dover, Del.

• When: 2 p.m.

• TV: ESPN, telecast begins at 1 p.m.

• The skinny: Points leader Jimmie Johnson matched the Dover track record with his seventh win there in the June race. He led 289 of the 400 laps.

autoracing


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