HOMESTEAD, Fla. — Kyle Busch thought he got the jump on the competition with a pole-winning run Friday evening at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Then he was bumped out of the first position by Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Denny Hamlin, and the politics began.
Hamlin gets the first pick of pit stalls for winning the pole, but Busch wants that spot. Busch is one of four drivers racing Sunday for the NASCAR Cup Series championship, and Hamlin is not.
Kevin Harvick, Joey Logano and Martin Truex Jr. also will be racing for the season title, and Busch covets any advantage possible.
"It's a discussion," Hamlin said about the strategy the JGR camp will use. "I mean, my pit crew is a second slower than Kyle's. Everything is earned, nothing is given. We'll have the discussion."
Truex was in a similar position last year and asked Hamlin, a fellow Toyota driver, to give him the first pit stall, but Hamlin declined. Busch didn't think his luck would be any better, but it might not matter — Truex went on to win the race and the championship with Furniture Row Racing.
"That's probably too far, but it would sure be nice," Busch said of Hamlin offering the preferred pit stall.
Hamlin turned a lap at 173.863 mph in the closing seconds of qualifying to bump Busch, who thought his lap at 173.622 was enough for the pole. It was enough to put him ahead of the other three title contenders, though, and that could prove crucial as he goes for a second title to go with his 2015 championship.
Truex qualified third to put three Toyotas at the front of the field. It's his final race with FRR because a lack of sponsorship is forcing the team to close after Sunday's season finale.
Logano qualified fifth for Team Penske as he goes for his first championship. Fellow Ford driver Kevin Harvick was 12th for Stewart-Haas Racing, lowest of the title contenders, but not overly concerned about where he's starting.
"I mean, we qualified 12th, not last," said Harvick, who won the 2014 championship. "I think it's not that big a deal if we can get our car driving right for Sunday."
Logano also cautioned against making predictions based on the qualifying results.
"I don't think a whole bunch transfers over," he said. "I think everyone was just tuned in for one (qualifying) lap."
Hamlin, meanwhile, won the pole for the second consecutive year and in a meaningful race for his team. He announced earlier Friday that he and crew chief Mike Wheeler are parting ways at the end of this season, and Hamlin seemed emotional about the split.
He and Wheeler won their very first race together, the Daytona 500 in 2016, and Hamlin wants to bookend their time together with a victory. A win would also extend Hamlin's streak of winning at least one race every season since his 2006 debut.
Hamlin had to win at Homestead-Miami Speedway in 2013 to keep his streak active.
"We definitely want to end on a high note and try to win. In 2013 we were in the same predicament where we hadn't won a race until the final race and we got it done, so hopefully it's our time to do it," Hamlin said. "We're going to keep digging. Hats off to this team."
Earlier, he had posted on Twitter regarding Wheeler: "You were there for me in the beginning when I first started with JGR 14 years ago. It's been a great ride."
No replacement has been named, and Hamlin declined to discuss the specifics of Wheeler's parting.
"It's a conversation for the weeks to come," Hamlin said. "The spot was always his. But obviously it's a big performance business and even though if you compare us to other drivers that people think are having a great season, and we're actually having a better season, it's kind of unfair.
"It's just the standards we have for ourselves. Change is going to be made. That's all I can really say about it."