By Luis Torres, Staff Writer
SONOMA, California — Sonoma Raceway is once again Kyle Larson’s yard after scoring his third straight pole in the Toyota/Save Mart 350.
Larson’s No. 42 Credit One Bank Chevrolet Camaro ran a qualifying speed of 95.712 mph, beating out William Byron by 0.043 seconds. It’s not only the Elk Grove native’s first pole of the season, but joins Ricky Rudd (1990-92) as the only drivers to have won three straight Sonoma poles.
Larson described his final round qualifying performance a bit slower than what he did in the first, where he went 95.901 mph due to how he drove in certain parts of the 2.52-mile road course.
“You never really know what you’re tracking, so I was going real hard in the first session. I felt like I over drove some and slip my tires maybe a little too much, but ran a fast lap,” said Larson. “I was worried maybe for the next session that I used all the good up on the tires. The next time I probably under drove a little bit in a couple of corners.
“I felt like I over drove the carousel the first time and under drove it the second time. I slightly over drove Turn 7 in the first session, and slightly under drove it the next. I felt like I got through the esses a little bit better in the last corner. I went a little slower in the next round, but I was able to get another pole.”
It might’ve not been a fourth Busch Pole Award for Byron, but considering who he’s starting alongside, he was pleased with his front row run.
“He’s exceptional at it and I don’t know what he does, but I’m going to try to figure that out. He just hits everything really good,” said Byron. “It’s good to be second, but it would’ve been nice to have another pole.”
Currently 14th in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series points standings, Byron is focused on getting stage points to help his cause of making it safe into the playoffs for the first time in his career.
“We got to continue building the gap. I think we’re going to go for the points,” Byron explained. “Hopefully, we can manage our way through traffic and gain from there.”
Prior to qualifying, Turn 5 was a huge concern as the dirty surface resulted Logano to head to the NASCAR hauler on Friday and advocate for changes to eliminate drivers using the grass. Sonoma Raceway and NASCAR listened to Logano’s suggestion and all night, they’ve put down four feet wide and 180 feet in length of asphalt.
“I was trying to help everybody. It would hurt racing if the track was really dirty, so that’s kind of what I thought,” said Longano. “Even in qualifying, if someone ran off in front of you and put dirt on the track, it would screw your lap up. You don’t want that for anyone. You want an equal playing field and I think that was a good move.
“They were doing it 4 am this morning. Kudos to NASCAR and Sonoma for putting the work in and make sure it’s right for us. That’s a great deal. It’s no one’s fault, we’ve never raced (the carousel). I guess Indy cars don’t drop their tires off over there and we do. It’s good to have it all fixed up and we’ll be fine tomorrow.”
As far as his qualifying run, Logano felt his run was good but was 0.094 seconds shy of out qualifying Larson, but a loose No. 22 Pennzoil Ford Mustang cost him a great opportunity to dethrone the pole sitter.
“I feel like I got through it pretty decent, but got a little loose off of Turn 10. If I can find one spot, I got loose and try to throttle up maybe a little too aggresively and stuck half my left side on the dirt and got loose. It knocked a few mile an hour off in the exit compared to where I would’ve been. Maybe that’s a tenth, maybe that’s a half-a-tenth. All I needed was nine hundredths, so that’s probably the spot I’m looking at.”
Starting alongside Logano is Chase Elliott, who was 0.114 seconds off Larson’s pole time. Followed by Daniel Suarez, Denny Hamlin, Kyle Busch, Martin Truex Jr., Ryan Blaney, Chris Buescher, Jimmie Johnson and Alex Bowman, who all made it to the final round of qualifying.
Only issue during qualifying was in the first round when Erik Jones’ left rear tire went down on his No. 20 Craftsman Toyota Camry. Jones will start 32nd after limping his car back into the pits with minor damage.
“I didn’t know it was a flat, but it was a flat for a majority of the lap. Then it finally blew coming down the frontstretch to take checkered,” Jones on the flat tire. “It’s pretty unfortunate. I think we had a top-15 car in qualifying, now we’re starting 32nd.
“It’s been the story of the whole year. Nothing really has went my way at this point. I guess it’s not changing this weekend yet. Hopefully, we can get it together for tomorrow and work our way through the field and have a good day at the end of it.”
Sunday’s Toyota Save Mart 350 will begin at 3pm EST, airing live on FS1 with radio coverage provided by PRN. The race is 90 laps.