By AMANDA VINCENT
A.J. Allmendinger heads into Sunday’s Cheez-It 355 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Watkins Glen (N.Y.) International as the race’s defending winner. He’ll begin his defense of that win on Sunday from the best possible starting spot — the pole. Allmendinger turned in a 68.993-second/127.839 mph lap in the second of two rounds of qualifying on Saturday to claim the top starting spot. It’s his second pole of the season and the fourth of his career.
“We can lead to turn one, at least,” Allmendinger said. “I’m just proud of all my guys.”
Allmendinger will share the front row with Martin Truex Jr. Chevrolet swept the top-seven spots on the starting grid, with Stewart-Haas Racing teammates Tony Stewart and Kevin Harvick claiming second row spots, and Jeff Gordon qualifying fifth. Kyle Larson qualified sixth, and Dale Earnhardt Jr. seventh.
Chevrolet took all but one starting spot inside the top-10 and all but two inside the top-12 starting positions that were determined in the second round of qualifying. Toyota druver Kyle Busch qualified in the top-10, qualifying eighth. Ford driver Brad Keselowski advanced to the final round and wound up 11th.
After struggling in practice on Friday, Allmendinger was fastest throughout the qualifying session. He also was the fastest in the first round with a 69.110-second/127.623 mph lap to knock Harvick from atop the scoring pylon after Harvick became the first driver in the opening round of qualifying to surpass the 127 mph mark.
“I was frustrated yesterday, and I probably wasn’t helping,” Allmendinger said. “I was overdriving, trying to get more than what we had there, and I didn’t do a good job yesterday. They (his No. 47 JTG-Daugherty Racing team) saved me. They gave me a good race car.”
Here is the complete starting grid for the Cheez-It 355:
Row 1 — A.J. Allmendinger (No. 47 Chevrolet), Martin Truex Jr. (No. 78 Chevrolet)
Row 2 — Tony Stewart (No. 14 Chevrolet), Kevin Harvick (No. 4 Chevrolet)
Row 3 — Jeff Gordon (No. 24 Chevrolet), Kyle Larson (No. 42 Chevrolet)
Row 4 — Dale Earnhardt Jr. (No. 88 Chevrolet), Kyle Busch (No. 18 Toyota)
Row 5 — Jimmie Johnson (No. 48 Chevrolet), Austin Dillon (No. 3 Chevrolet)
Row 6 — Brad Keselowski (No. 2 Ford), Justin Allgaier (No. 51 Chevrolet)
Row 7 — Denny Hamlin (No. 11 Toyota), Kurt Busch (No. 41 Chevrolet)
Row 8 — Carl Edwards (No. 19 Toyota), Joey Logano (No. 22 Ford)
Row 9 — Jamie McMurray (No. 1 Chevrolet), Clint Bowyer (No. 15 Toyota)
Row 10 — David Ragan (No. 55 Toyota), Ryan Newman (No. 31 Chevrolet)
Row 11 — Aric Almirola (No. 43 Ford), Danica Patrick (No. 10 Chevrolet)
Row 12 — Kasey Kahne (No. 5 Chevrolet), Sam Hornish Jr. (No. 9 Ford)
Row 13 — Greg Biffle (No. 16 Ford), Matt Kenseth (No. 20 Toyota)
Row 14 — Matt DiBenedetto (No. 83 Toyota), Paul Menard (No. 27 Chevrolet)
Row 15 — Casey Mears (No. 13 Chevrolet), Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (No. 17 Ford)
Row 16 — Michael McDowell (No. 95 Ford), Chris Buescher (No. 34 Buescher)
Row 17 — Cole Whitt (No. 35 Ford), Trevor Bayne (No. 6 Ford)
Row 18 — Alex Kennedy (No. 33 Chevrolet), Landon Cassill (No. 40 Chevrolet)
Row 19 — David Gilliland (No. 38 Ford), Boris Said (No. 32 Chevrolet)
Row 20 — Alex Bowman (No. 7 Chevrolet), Michael Annett (No. 46 Chevrolet)
Row 21 — Jeb Burton (No. 26 Toyota), J.J. Yeley (No. 23 Toyota)
Row 22 — Timmy Hill (No. 98 Chevrolet)
DNQ (did not qualify) — T.J. Bell
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