A year ago Jamie McMurray won the pole at Sonoma Raceway but was unable to carryover his qualifying speed to raceday, finishing a distant 25th.
Twelve months later McMurray again finds himself on the pole for Sunday's Toyota/Save Mart 350, having set the fastest time in qualifying Saturday. With under a minute remaining in the second of two qualifying sessions, McMurray traveled the 1.99-mile road course with an average speed of 96.350 mph to edge second-place A.J. Allmendinger (96.088).
"I was really shocked that we could run fast on our third run," McMurray said. "We made a change, but I'm not sure where that speed came from. That was a really good lap."
Despite never having won on a road course, McMurray has proven to be a prolific qualifier at Sonoma with three of his 10 career poles coming on the Northern California track.
"I'm excited, it is cool," McMurray said. "This is my third road course pole. That is pretty awesome."
NASCAR Power Rankings
NASCAR Power Rankings
Making his Sonoma debut, rookie Kyle Larson qualified third, and will share Row 2 with Carl Edwards of Roush Fenway Racing. Larson, a teammate of McMurray's at Chip Ganassi Racing, has driven an automatic transmission Chevrolet Camaro around the Charlotte area in recent weeks to improve his shifting skills.
"It would have been nice to get the pole, but Jamie was really fast," Larson said. "Good day. A lot better than what I thought I was going to qualify."
Kurt Busch, Kevin Harvick, Ryan Newman, Brian Vickers, Paul Menard and Joey Logano completed the top 10. Danica Patrick will start 11th.
Hendrick Motorsports, which won the past five races, failed to advance any of its four drivers to the final round. Jeff Gordon was a team-best 15th followed by Dale Earnhardt Jr. (17th), Jimmie Johnson (22nd) and Kasey Kahne (30th).
"Very disappointed to not have any Hendrick cars in the top 12, so something we are going to have to work on," Gordon said. "But I feel really good about the race. Our car has been really fast."
The biggest surprise of qualifying was the lack of speed exhibited by Marcos Ambrose. A noted road racer who is expected to challenge for the win Sunday qualified just 23rd despite making three attempts. In six prior Sonoma races Ambrose never started worse than eighth.
No driver failed to qualify with all 43 entrants making Sunday's race.
Toyota/Save Mart 350 starting lineup
|17||Dale Earnhardt, Jr.||Chevrolet||95.461|
|18||Martin Truex, Jr.||Chevrolet||95.451|
|24||Ricky Stenhouse, Jr.||Ford||95.136|