Denny Hamlin figures this weekend is when NASCAR's real championship contenders begin to separate themselves from the pack. He thinks he's part of that group -- and he's off to a pretty good start.
Hamlin won pole position for the Brickyard 400 on Saturday, turning a lap of 182.763 mph in qualifying. And with a good run in the race Sunday, Hamlin figures he can rev up his push for a title.
''This is the turning point of the season,'' Hamlin said. ''We feel like from Indy to Richmond is when you're going to start to see who's going to fight for a championship. Everyone has got their Chase cars prepared, bringing them to the racetrack, starting to tune on them, and that's when you want to start running good.''
It's the 11th pole of Hamlin's career and his second this season. Hamlin also won the pole at California.
Hamlin's best finish in six career Brickyard starts is third in 2008. Coming into this weekend, he had never started higher than 10th at the historic 2.5-mile oval.
''I feel like when we come here, we can win every single time,'' Hamlin said. ''You ask me that about a couple other tracks, I would say no.''
Carl Edwards qualified second in his first race weekend with new crew chief Chad Norris, followed by Joey Logano, Aric Almirola and Greg Biffle.
Jimmie Johnson qualified sixth, holding on to a wildly loose car.
Jeff Gordon was ninth, Juan Pablo Montoya was 12th and Tony Stewart was 28th.
NASCAR officials disallowed the qualifying time of Michael McDowell after a post-qualifying inspection found that the nitrogen gas in a rear shock absorber on the No. 98 car exceeded the allowable pressure. The No. 19 car driven by Mike Bliss made the race instead.