Qualifying: Rookie Denny Hamlin, as calm and cool as ever, grabbed the pole for tonight's race at Richmond, by far the biggest challenge yet for the youngster. "I think qualifying up front is going to be a big deal," Hamlin said after wrapping up his third pole of the season and the fourth of his brief career with a lap of 127.986 mph. "I hope we can lead at least one lap and then just hang in there and get a good finish." The 25-year-old Hamlin is one of eight drivers battling for seven remaining spots in the Chase for the Nextel Cup championship, a 10-race showdown that begins next week at Loudon, N.H. Most of the contenders came out strong in Friday night's qualifying on the .75-mile oval, but there were some disappointments, too. Right behind Hamlin were Jeff Burton, holding the 10th and final spot in the Chase by 30 points over Kasey Kahne, at 127.805, and four-time Cup champion Jeff Gordon, fourth in the standings, at 127.690. Mark Martin, two points in front of Burton in ninth, qualified fourth, followed by third-place Kevin Harvick. Kyle Busch, fifth in the points, was 12th. Points leader Matt Kenseth, who along with runner-up Jimmie Johnson already have clinched starting spots in the Chase, was 10th in qualifying, while Johnson was a disappointing 19th. Harvick has all but wrapped up a spot in the Chase, as well.
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