So it looks like Denny Hamlin's season might not be the toast we all assumed it was after he vacated the #11 for four races because of injury.
Hamlin secured his third pole of the season on Friday afternoon at Dover. That's fine work for a guy just weeks removed from a broken vertebra in his back. What's even more impressive is that Dover is one of Hamlin's worst tracks. He has an average finish of 19.6 in Dover; only Daytona and Sonoma have been more inhospitable. Still, he got around the Monster Mile at 22.788 seconds, for a speed of 157.978 mph.
The trick for Hamlin now is winning a race or two. He appears near-certain to work his way back into the top 20; he's 53 points out of the top 20 with 14 races left to close that gap. In the two races he's finished since his return, he's come in second and fourth. We thought it'd take Hamlin until 2014 to get back into Chase competition; now it looks like he'll be there by Independence Day.
Hamlin will be joined at the front of the pack by three other Toyotas: Martin Truex Jr., Kyle Busch and Matt Kenseth. Ryan Newman, Mark Martin, Kevin Harvick, Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano and Jamie McMurray round out the top 10. Dale Earnhardt Jr. will start 12th, and points leader Jimmie Johnson will start 24th.