One of the last five of 39 drivers to qualify, Hamlin’s average lap speed of 129.230 mph just edged driver Kyle Larson (129.004 mph) for the top starting position in Saturday night’s Bass Pro Shops Night Race at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway.

Kurt Busch qualified fourth and Aric Almirola completed the top-five.

The pole is the first for Hamlin this season and remarkably the first for a driver, although they have won 11 of the season’s first 23 races.

It’s also the 31st of Hamlin’s career and fourth at Bristol.

Asked if he could believe this was ’s first pole of 2019, Hamlin said, “Yeah, I can believe it. I’ve lived it. I’m proud of this whole team for giving me such a great car. The guys are on it right now – it’s just unbelievable with what they’re doing with these race cars.

“I’m just trying to learn every week, doing everything I can to get better and the results are showing it.”

Entering Saturday night’s race, Hamlin has three wins this season and has finished fifth or better in the last five races. He started fifth and finished fifth in the spring Bristol race.

“The 2010 season is really when I can remember it being as consistently good. It’s week-to-week though, you’re only as good as your last race,” Hamlin said. “We sure don’t want to stink it up when we go out here tomorrow night but we have a great starting spot.

“We need to go out there, set the pace and get this thing in Victory Lane.”

Rounding out the top-10 starters are Chase Elliott, Matt DiBenedetto, Kevin Harvick, Erik Jones and Alex Bowman.

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