Think qualifying doesn't mean much? The moment Sunday's Ford 400 goes green, the live standings will look like this:
Obviously, that'll last maybe one turn, as Hamlin will begin moving up almost immediately. But this is exactly why qualifying is so important, and why Hamlin's poor qualifying run on Friday afternoon is so damaging to his chances of bringing home the Sprint Cup.
At Homestead, the Big 3 have average starting spots of 11.6 (Harvick), 19.3 (Johnson) and 34.0 (Hamlin). True to form, Hamlin qualified weakly, starting the race in 37th place. To put that in perspective, he'll be starting behind Dave Blaney, Joe Nemechek, Casey Mears and the immortal Andy Lally.
Harvick came in at 28th, a disappointing position for a guy who'd been claiming he brought his best-ever car to Homestead. Johnson, meanwhile, will start in the sixth position ... the proverbial Chase driver's seat, to turn a phrase.
"That was definitely a good lap for us," Johnson said. "...I think that’s going to be the best starting position I think we’ve had in a while."
"I thought we might be a little better, but not much ... Our car was very comfortable in race trim and we are ready to go," Harvick said.
In the first real on-track battle, the advantage definitely lies with Johnson. But that's just going to make things that much more exciting, won't it?
One other point: the guy who started 38th in last year's Homestead race won it. That guy's name?