Road Course Ace AJ Allmendinger Grabs Sprint Cup Series Pole At Sonoma Raceway

(NASCAR Wire Service)

Reid Spencer ~ NASCAR Wire Service


AJ Allmendinger celebrates winning the pole for Sunday's Sprint Cup Series Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Sonoma Raceway (Photo: Rainier Ehrhardt/Getty Images for NASCAR)

AJ Allmendinger celebrates winning the pole for Sunday’s Sprint Cup Series Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Sonoma Raceway (Photo: Rainier Ehrhardt/Getty Images for NASCAR)

SONOMA, Calif. – In Saturday’s time trial at Sonoma Raceway, AJ Allmendinger took his first small step toward the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.

But the giant leap toward that goal will have to wait until Sunday’s Toyota/Save Mart 350 at the 1.99-mile track (3 p.m. ET on FOX Sports 1), where Allmendinger will try to win his second straight road course race in NASCAR’s top series and stake his claim to a position in the Chase.

One of the pre-race favorites—if not THE pre-race favorite—Allmendinger toured the track in 1 minute, 14.385 seconds (96.310 mph), .166 seconds faster than Kurt Busch (96.095 mph), whose money lap was aborted when his brother, Kyle Busch, spun in Turn 10 to bring out a red flag with 7:03 left in the final 10-minute session.

Matt Kenseth (96.001 mph) qualified third, followed by Kyle Larson (95.932 mph), who set a track record at 96.568 mph in the first round of knockout qualifying, a 25-minute session that narrowed the field from 44 drivers to the fastest 12.

Larson’s run eclipsed the mark of 96.350 mph established by Jamie McMurray last year, but, like Kurt Busch, Larson saw his first run in the final round interrupted by the caution.

Jeff Gordon (95.905 mph) will start fifth in his final race at Sonoma as a full-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver.

“It’s a solid start, but the prize is tomorrow,” said Allmendinger, who earned the third Coors Light Pole Award of his career and his first on a road course. The pole was Allmendinger’s first since he started from the top spot in the No. 22 Team Penske Ford at Kansas in April 2012.

“We knew that, if we go do our job, and if I do my job tomorrow, and we have solid pit stops, and we just take care of business, at the end we should give ourselves a chance,” Allmendinger added. “And that’s all we can ask for.”

Kurt Busch thought his interrupted lap in the final round would have been a pole winner, but he was happy to be starting up front, albeit from the second spot.

“It’s a nice package that (crew chief) Tony Gibson gave me, and all the guys back at the shop,” Busch said. “Thanks to them for building this special car for a road course race. There was a little apprehension coming in, because we didn’t have testing sessions or any kind of shakedown sessions.

“And so, to be outside pole with the Haas Automation Chevy, that’s awesome. That’s what we wanted. And now we’ve got all kinds of strategy plays to figure out to get into race mode. So, we did our job. We’re on the front row.”

Reigning series champion Kevin Harvick was fast in Friday’s practice, but he turned in a lackluster qualifying performance.

“What section (of the course) didn’t I screw-up?” Harvick, who will start 17th, asked rhetorically. “This has just been something I’ve never been very good at, as far as the qualifying thing here at Sonoma. Our Budweiser/Outback/Folds of Honor Chevy is handling good and doing all the good things that you want it to … I was just too easy in (Turns) 2, 3, and 4 and okay down the hill and then got up the race track both laps in (Turn) 11.

“So that cost us three or four tenths both times. We have a good car. I’ve got some cars to pass. We passed a lot of cars last year, but I’m just not very good at the qualifying thing here, for whatever reason.”

Notes: Brendan Gaughan failed to make the 43-car field. … Dale Earnhardt Jr. qualified 20th but will keep his starting position under road course rules, despite a transmission change after time trials. Earnhardt’s No. 88 Chevy got stuck in second gear coming to green for his second qualifying run. … Danica Patrick will start 21st after a lap at 95.366 mph.

NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Qualifying – Toyota – Save Mart 350
Sonoma Raceway
Sonoma, California
Saturday, June 27, 2015

1. (47) AJ Allmendinger, Chevrolet, 96.310 mph.
2. (41) Kurt Busch, Chevrolet, 96.095 mph.
3. (20) Matt Kenseth, Toyota, 96.001 mph.
4. (42) Kyle Larson, Chevrolet, 95.932 mph.
5. (24) Jeff Gordon, Chevrolet, 95.905 mph.
6. (15) Clint Bowyer, Toyota, 95.884 mph.
7. (14) Tony Stewart, Chevrolet, 95.663 mph.
8. (13) Casey Mears, Chevrolet, 95.563 mph.
9. (55) David Ragan, Toyota, 95.497 mph.
10. (2) Brad Keselowski, Ford, 95.298 mph.
11. (18) Kyle Busch, Toyota, 95.293 mph.
12. (78) Martin Truex Jr., Chevrolet, 95.177 mph.
13. (48) Jimmie Johnson, Chevrolet, 95.756 mph.
14. (19) Carl Edwards, Toyota, 95.733 mph.
15. (11) Denny Hamlin, Toyota, 95.554 mph.
16. (31) Ryan Newman, Chevrolet, 95.531 mph.
17. (4) Kevin Harvick, Chevrolet, 95.477 mph.
18. (1) Jamie McMurray, Chevrolet, 95.436 mph.
19. (22) Joey Logano, Ford, 95.417 mph.
20. (88) Dale Earnhardt Jr., Chevrolet, 95.390 mph.
21. (10) Danica Patrick, Chevrolet, 95.366 mph.
22. (16) Greg Biffle, Ford, 95.345 mph.
23. (95) Michael McDowell, Ford, 95.336 mph.
24. (9) Sam Hornish Jr., Ford, 95.208 mph.
25. (43) Aric Almirola, Ford, 95.084 mph.
26. (5) Kasey Kahne, Chevrolet, 95.006 mph.
27. (51) Justin Allgaier, Chevrolet, 94.920 mph.
28. (38) David Gilliland, Ford, 94.841 mph.
29. (35) Cole Whitt, Ford, 94.805 mph.
30. (83) Matt DiBenedetto #, Toyota, 94.714 mph.
31. (6) Trevor Bayne, Ford, 94.534 mph.
32. (27) Paul Menard, Chevrolet, 94.527 mph.
33. (32) Boris Said(i), Ford, 94.477 mph.
34. (23) JJ Yeley(i), Toyota, 94.441 mph.
35. (34) Justin Marks(i), Ford, 94.320 mph.
36. (33) Alex Kennedy #, Chevrolet, 94.132 mph.
37. (3) Austin Dillon, Chevrolet, Owner Points
38. (98) Josh Wise, Chevrolet, Owner Points
39. (40) Landon Cassill(i), Chevrolet, Owner Points
40. (17) Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Ford, Owner Points
41. (7) Alex Bowman, Chevrolet, Owner Points
42. (46) Michael Annett, Chevrolet, Owner Points
43. (26) Jeb Burton #, Toyota, Owner Points

1 drivers failed to qualify.

44. (62) Brendan Gaughan(i), Chevrolet, 91.927 mph.

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