Story By: REID SPENCER / NASCAR – SONOMA, CA – Take the aerodynamic factor away and the new Chevrolets are just fine, as Kyle Larson proved Saturday in his pole-winning run at Sonoma Raceway.
Larson negotiated the 1.99-mile road course in 75.732 seconds (94.597 mph) – the fastest lap of the day – to earn top starting spot in Sunday’s Toyota Save Mart 350 (3 p.m. ET, FS1, PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). The Busch Pole Award was the California native’s second of the season, his second at Sonoma and the sixth of his career.
Driving the No. 42 Chip Ganassi Racing Camaro ZL1, Larson edged reigning Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion Martin Truex Jr. (94.227 mph) by .09 seconds. Truex will take the green flag from the front row for the fifth time in 16 races this season, having won three poles and having started first at Martinsville after a qualifying rainout.
Road course ace AJ Allmendinger was fastest in the first of two rounds at 94.477 mph (75.828 seconds), but Larson made a huge gain in the money round.
“It was a really good second lap there,” Larson acknowledged. “I figured I had run in the 75-second bracket. I just didn’t know how quickly, so when I saw the (75.732) pop up on my dash, I knew would be a good lap, but I didn’t know if it was the pole or not.
“Once I knew I was ahead of the 78 (Truex), I figured the 47 (Allmendinger) was the only one that could beat me. I’m not sure where he messed up his lap, but he wasn’t able to get the pole (Allmendinger qualified fifth).
“It was cool to do it. We picked up a lot of time from the first round into the second round. The car had really good balance in the first round, so I don’t know what adjustments (the team made), if anything, but I was just able to attack the braking zones a little bit more and rush the throttle a little bit more on the exits, and it paid off.”
Chase Elliott qualified third, followed by Jamie McMurray, Larson’s Chip Ganassi Racing teammate, as Chevrolet drivers claimed six of the top eight starting positions. Truex had the fastest Toyota, and sixth-place qualifier Kevin Harvick the quickest Ford.
“It was a good lap,” Harvick said. “My Ford is a little better than me when it comes to this day. I was a little too conservative in a couple corners and gave up a little time, but it was a solid two rounds for us.
“The hardest thing to do is make it out of Round 1. After you do that, we went faster than we did in practice in Round 1 and faster again in Round 2. That’s always a good thing for me.”
Hendrick Motorsports, which supplies the engines for Ganassi, placed three drivers in the top eight, with Elliott, Jimmie Johnson (seventh) and Sunoco rookie William Byron (eighth) all earning spots in the first four rows.
Johnson’s starting spot is his best of the season so far.
“The car since we unloaded has been very competitive and good,” said the seven-time series champion. “I got two clean laps. I can’t say that I really gave away any time out there, which is tough to do on a tight little road course like this. A top 10 starting spot – we will take it.”
Series leader Kyle Busch qualified ninth.
“Our qualifying run was okay,” Busch said. “For some reason, we’ve kind of been lacking here this weekend. We haven’t been able to find that fast lap. We keep trying to work on the car and on the driver and have certainly made improvements to both, just not enough of them.
“Qualified ninth, that’s OK. Certainly, we’d like to be more in the top five spots, but it’s kind of what we got, so it’s what we’ll have for tomorrow.”
Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Qualifying – Toyota / Save Mart 350
Saturday, June 23, 2018
1. (42) Kyle Larson, Chevrolet, 94.597 mph.
2. (78) Martin Truex Jr., Toyota, 94.484 mph.
3. (9) Chase Elliott, Chevrolet, 94.461 mph.
4. (1) Jamie McMurray, Chevrolet, 94.227 mph.
5. (47) AJ Allmendinger, Chevrolet, 93.925 mph.
6. (4) Kevin Harvick, Ford, 93.856 mph.
7. (48) Jimmie Johnson, Chevrolet, 93.824 mph.
8. (24) William Byron #, Chevrolet, 93.756 mph.
9. (18) Kyle Busch, Toyota, 93.679 mph.
10. (2) Brad Keselowski, Ford, 93.409 mph.
11. (12) Ryan Blaney, Ford, 93.354 mph.
12. (22) Joey Logano, Ford, 92.309 mph.
13. (6) Trevor Bayne, Ford, 93.455 mph.
14. (31) Ryan Newman, Chevrolet, 93.454 mph.
15. (21) Paul Menard, Ford, 93.438 mph.
16. (19) Daniel Suarez, Toyota, 93.372 mph.
17. (88) Alex Bowman, Chevrolet, 93.267 mph.
18. (17) Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Ford, 93.265 mph.
19. (14) Clint Bowyer, Ford, 93.252 mph.
20. (20) Erik Jones, Toyota, 93.241 mph.
21. (11) Denny Hamlin, Toyota, 93.190 mph.
22. (34) Michael McDowell, Ford, 93.126 mph.
23. (41) Kurt Busch, Ford, 93.114 mph.
24. (10) Aric Almirola, Ford, 93.066 mph.
25. (37) Chris Buescher, Chevrolet, 93.024 mph.
26. (95) Kasey Kahne, Chevrolet, 93.017 mph.
27. (3) Austin Dillon, Chevrolet, 92.930 mph.
28. (38) David Ragan, Ford, 92.490 mph.
29. (23) Gray Gaulding, Toyota, 92.396 mph.
30. (32) Matt DiBenedetto, Ford, 92.290 mph.
31. (13) Ty Dillon, Chevrolet, 92.244 mph.
32. (72) Cole Whitt, Chevrolet, 92.145 mph.
33. (15) Justin Marks(i), Chevrolet, 91.961 mph.
34. (96) Parker Kligerman(i), Toyota, 91.522 mph.
35. (43) Bubba Wallace #, Chevrolet, 91.179 mph.
36. (51) Chris Cook, Ford, 90.536 mph.
37. (00) Tomy Drissi, Chevrolet, 89.858 mph.
38. (52) Cody Ware, Chevrolet, 89.220 mph.