On a historic weekend, Denny Hamlin scored his third pole of the 2023 NASCAR Cup Series season.
In Saturday's qualifying session for Sunday's NASCAR Cup Series Grant Park 220 street race at the Chicago Street Course, Hamlin cranked out a lap time of 88.435 seconds (89.557 mph) which was the best of anyone in the final round of the session.
After the pole-winning run, Hamlin credited his No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing team and his own 23XI Racing team for helping him prepare heading into the race weekend.
"It's just such a testament to these guys. They do such a great job preparing me for these things," Hamlin explained with a smile on his face. "Also, have to give a lot of credit to 23XI as well for helping me get better. Just a lot of fun when you can have days like today. Obviously, our Yahoo! Camry is just super strong and I like where we're at."
Any time you can win a pole it's special, but this weekend isn't just any other pole. The driver of the No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Yahoo! Toyota Camry, will lead the field to green for the 39th time of his illustrious NASCAR Cup Series career, and in the process, Hamlin became the first driver to ever score a pole in a NASCAR Cup Series street race.
Heading into the weekend, Hamlin admits he was a skeptic that the Chicago Street Course layout could produce a good race. But after driving on it on Saturday, he feels that Sunday could be an incredible show.
"Just amazing. The course is actually very, very good and race-able," Hamlin stated. "I think there's going to be a ton of passing zones. I was a skeptic. I really was. I thought [it was] too narrow, I mean, who knows how it races. But I just feel like the town is very welcoming to us. Everyone we've seen walking down the streets is excited to come to the race. Glad to be here."
Hamlin secured the pole, but it wasn't by a massive margin as Tyler Reddick, who drives the No. 45 Toyota for Hamlin's 23XI Racing organization, recorded a lap time just 0.044 sec. slower than Hamlin. Reddick will join his boss on the front row on Sunday.
Behind Hamlin and Reddick in Row 2 will be the story of the weekend in Australian V8 Supercars standout Shane van Gisbergen.
SVG, in his first start of any kind in a NASCAR stock car, paced NASCAR Cup Series practice earlier in the afternoon on Saturday, and then he clocked in third overall in qualifying for Sunday's race.
The 34-year-old, who is in the Trackhouse Racing PROJECT91 entry this weekend, will be a true threat to win if he's around at the finish of the Grant Park 220.
Christopher Bell, Daniel Suarez, Michael McDowell, Kyle Larson, Jenson Button, Joey Logano, and AJ Allmendinger rounded out the top-10 qualifiers for Sunday's event.
Chase Elliott, who is usually among the favorites anytime the NASCAR Cup Series visits a road racing venue, had a rough qualifying session. Elliott clocked in 26th-fastest in Round 1 before he opted to tuck in behind van Gisbergen in an effort to pick up some tips around the 2.200-mile street course.
However, Elliott had troubles in Turns 7 and 8 on his lap behind SVG, which resulted in him pounding the concrete barrier hard in Turn 8.
After the track was cleaned up following Elliott's crash, Kevin Harvick found trouble in the No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford Mustang in Turn 1, which put an end to the qualifying session.
Here is video from the USA Network broadcast of Harvick's troubles:
Both Elliott and Harvick were able to walk away from their hard crashes, and will drop to the rear before Sunday's Grant Park 220, as they'll be relegated to backup cars.
Photo Credit: Lesley Ann Miller, LAT images, Courtesy of Toyota Racing