By AMANDA VINCENT
A.J. Allmendinger, the most recent road course winner on the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series circuit with his win at Watkins Glen (N.Y.) last year, will begin the Toyota/SaveMart 350 at Sonoma (Calif.) Raceway on Sunday from the best possible spot — the pole. Allmendinger turned in a 96.310 mph/74.385-second lap around the Sonoma road course in the second of two rounds of qualifying on Saturday to claim the top starting spot for Sunday’s race.
“We’ve got a solid race car and had a good day today, but the real test is tomorrow,” Allmendinger said.
The Sonoma pole is the third of Allmendinger’s career, but his first at Sonoma Raceway and his first of the season.
Allmendinger will share the front row with Kurt Busch, who posted a 96.095 mph/74.551-second lap. Busch’s second-place qualifying lap was actually his second lap of the second round of the sessioin. His first lap was cut short near its completion after nearly making contact with his brother, Kyle Busch, when Kyle spun and brought out the caution and yellow flag.
“It was really an eventful session with guys going off (track),” Kurt Busch said. “Man, I had 90 percent of my lap completed. . . . That lap would’ve been good enough for the pole.
The Kyle Busch caution wasn’t the first caution/red flag of the qualifying session. Each of the two rounds of qualifying saw the yellow and red flags. Michael Annett’s car stalled with 15 minutes and 38 seconds left in the 25-minute first round, resulting in the first pause of qualifyng.
At the time of the Annett caution, Tony Stewart led the way for the 27 drivers who had already completed first-round laps, but when the round resumed, he dropped outside the top-12. Another attempted moved Stewart back up to third by the end of the round and sent him on to round two. Kyle Larson posted the fastest lap of the first round, a 74.186-second/96.568 mph lap that set a new track qualifying record. Allmendinger was second in round one.
Matt Kenseth qualified third after lackluster practice results at a track where he’s never led a lap, only has one-career top-10 finish and has an average finish of about 22nd.
“I feel good about qualifying third. I don’t know how we did that,” Kenseth said. “We definitely overachieved today.”
Below, is the complete starting grid for the Toyota/SaveMart 350 at Sonoma Raceway:
Row 1: A.J. Allmendinger (No. 47 Chevrolet), Kurt Busch (No. 41 Chevrolet)
Row 2: Matt Kenseth (No. 20 Toyota), Kyle Larson (No. 42 Chevrolet)
Row 3: Jeff Gordon (No. 24 Chevrolet), Clint Bowyer (No. 15 Toyota)
Row 4: Tony Stewart (No. 14 Chevrolet), Casey Mears (No. 13 Chevrolet)
Row 5: David Ragan (No. 55 Toyota), Brad Keselowski (No. 2 Ford)
Row 6: Kyle Busch (No. 18 Toyota), Martin Truex Jr. (No. 78 Chevrolet)
Row 7: Jimmie Johnson (No. 48 Chevrolet), Carl Edwards (No. 19 Toyota)
Row 8: Denny Hamlin (No. 11 Toyota), Ryan Newman (No. 31 Chevrolet)
Row 9: Kevin Harvick (No. 4 Chevrolet), Jamie McMurray (No. 1 Chevrolet)
Row 10: Joey Logano (No. 22 Ford), Dale Earnhardt Jr. (No. 88 Chevrolet)
Row 11: Danica Patrick (No. 10 Chevrolet), Greg Biffle (No. 16 Ford)
Row 12: Michael McDowell (No. 95 Ford), Sam Hornish (No. 9 Ford)
Row 13: Aric Almirola (No. 43 Ford), Kasey Kahne (No. 5 Chevrolet)
Row 14: Justin Allgaier (No. 51 Chevrolet), David Gilliland (No. 38 Ford)
Row 15: Cole Whitt (No. 35 Ford), Matt DiBenedetto (No. 83 Toyota)
Row 16: Trevor Bayne (No. 6 Ford), Paul Menard (No. 27 Chevrolet)
Row 17: Boris Said (No. 32 Ford), J.J. Yeley (No. 23 Toyota)
Row 18: Justin Marks (No. 34 Ford), Alex Kennedy (No. 33 Chevrolet)
Row 19: Austin Dillon (No. 3 Chevrolet), Josh Wise (No. 98 Chevrolet)
Row 20: Landon Cassill (No. 40 Chevrolet), Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (No. 17 Ford)
Row 21: Alex Bowman (No. 7 Chevrolet), Michael Annett (No. 46 Chevrolet)
Row 22: Jeb Burton (No. 26 Toyota)
DNQ (did not qualify): Brendan Gaughan
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