By Reid Spencer, NASCAR Wire Service
SONOMA, Calif. – Kyle Larson didn’t think he had a pole-winning lap, especially after he wheel-hopped into Turn 11 at Sonoma Raceway and lost speed through the tight hairpin corner in Saturday’s Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series knockout qualifying session.
But Larson’s lap was good enough to edge Chip Ganassi Racing teammate Jamie McMurray for the top starting spot in Sunday’s Toyota/Save Mart 350 (3 p.m. ET on FS1) at the 1.99-mile road course in California wine country.
“The whole lap actually felt pretty bad,” said Larson, who won his third Coors Light Pole Award of the season, his first at Sonoma and the fourth of his career—a week after winning from the pole at Michigan International Speedway. “I messed up into (Turn) 1 and into (Turn) 2 and was out a little bit too far. Yeah, I felt like I gave up enough (in Turn 11) that I wouldn’t have a shot at the pole.
“I thought maybe I’d maintain and run about the same lap time as the previous run. So I was surprised, and I was happy about that. This is cool to get a pole on a road course at my home state. This is my closest track to Sacramento or Elk Grove where I grew up. I have lots of friends and family here. We’re going to celebrate with the team.”
McMurray was first out in the final round and set the target at 95.204 mph. Of the 11 drivers who followed, only Larson was able to top the driver of the No. 1 Chevrolet, and only by .091 seconds. That completed a Ganassi Racing sweep of the front row for a Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race for the third time in team history.
“I was really happy that we were able to run quicker (in the final round) than we did on stickers (new tires),” McMurray said. “And I thought I did a really good job. I don’t feel like I gave up. There wasn’t a corner that stuck out. The first run in Turn 7 I messed up. But overall, it was a really good lap.
“Kyle just got a little bit more. I thought he was going to give it back to me in Turn 11. The lap tracker is painful when you go first. It’s horrible to have to watch that, but that’s cool. That team’s been on a roll, and our whole Chip Ganassi Racing team has been pretty awesome this year.”
Martin Truex Jr. qualified third, followed by Kyle Busch and AJ Allmendinger. Danica Patrick, Ryan Blaney, Chase Elliott, Chris Buescher and Dale Earnhardt Jr. completed the top 10.
“I overdrove the first 11 corners,” Earnhardt quipped in a tweet after his final-round lap. “Way too aggressive. But still a decent starting spot.”
For the record, the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series runs only nine of the 11 corners on the course. The Cup course eliminates Turns 5 and 6, but the track uses its standard nomenclature for the rest of the corners.
Notes: Danica Patrick’s sixth-place starting spot is the third-best of her career and her best since qualifying fourth for the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte in May of 2014… Road course ace Billy Johnson qualified 26th for his Cup debut as a substitute in the No. 43 Richard Petty Motorsports Ford, but he was only two spots behind seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson… Israeli driver Alon Day earned the 32nd starting spot for his Cup debut.
Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Qualifying – Toyota – Save Mart 350
1. (42) Kyle Larson, Chevrolet, 95.295 mph.
2. (1) Jamie McMurray, Chevrolet, 95.204 mph.
3. (78) Martin Truex Jr., Toyota, 94.947 mph.
4. (18) Kyle Busch, Toyota, 94.939 mph.
5. (47) AJ Allmendinger, Chevrolet, 94.821 mph.
6. (10) Danica Patrick, Ford, 94.773 mph.
7. (21) Ryan Blaney, Ford, 94.716 mph.
8. (24) Chase Elliott, Chevrolet, 94.536 mph.
9. (37) Chris Buescher, Chevrolet, 94.382 mph.
10. (88) Dale Earnhardt Jr., Chevrolet, 94.370 mph.
11. (19) Daniel Suarez #, Toyota, 94.312 mph.
12. (4) Kevin Harvick, Ford, 94.142 mph.
13. (14) Clint Bowyer, Ford, 94.639 mph.
14. (11) Denny Hamlin, Toyota, 94.330 mph.
15. (27) Paul Menard, Chevrolet, 94.263 mph.
16. (95) Michael McDowell, Chevrolet, 94.252 mph.
17. (41) Kurt Busch, Ford, 94.214 mph.
18. (22) Joey Logano, Ford, 94.134 mph.
19. (3) Austin Dillon, Chevrolet, 94.107 mph.
20. (31) Ryan Newman, Chevrolet, 94.090 mph.
21. (5) Kasey Kahne, Chevrolet, 94.056 mph.
22. (17) Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Ford, 94.029 mph.
23. (2) Brad Keselowski, Ford, 93.992 mph.
24. (48) Jimmie Johnson, Chevrolet, 93.957 mph.
25. (6) Trevor Bayne, Ford, 93.920 mph.
26. (43) Billy Johnson, Ford, 93.883 mph.
27. (32) Matt DiBenedetto, Ford, 93.636 mph.
28. (38) David Ragan, Ford, 93.634 mph.
29. (72) Cole Whitt, Chevrolet, 93.519 mph.
30. (77) Erik Jones #, Toyota, 93.467 mph.
31. (34) Landon Cassill, Ford, 93.304 mph.
32. (23) Alon Day, Toyota, 93.031 mph.
33. (51) Josh Bilicki(i), Chevrolet, 92.916 mph.
34. (33) Boris Said, Chevrolet, 92.907 mph.
35. (13) Ty Dillon #, Chevrolet, 92.565 mph.
36. (15) Kevin O’Connell, Chevrolet, 89.572 mph.
37. (55) Tommy Regan, Chevrolet, 87.552 mph.
38. (20) Matt Kenseth, Toyota, 0.000 mph.