NASCAR Cup: Kyle Larson on pole at Auto Club Speedway
Kyle Larson (photo courtesy of Getty Images for NASCAR)
By AMANDA VINCENT
Kyle Larson turned in a 38.493-second/187.047 mph lap in the third and final round of Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series qualifying at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif., on Friday to claim the pole for Sunday’s Auto Club 400. It’s Larson’s second-career pole, but his first since his rookie season of 2014.
“It was an interesting qualifying for us,” Larson, runner-up in the last three Cup Series races, said. “I ran the bottom in (turns) three and four, well, all day, really, and then, there the first two rounds. I knew everybody was running the top in three and four, and my plan was to go up there in the second round, but thought I maybe got through one and two okay enough to run the bottom, but I still lost time there. I knew the third round, I was going to have to move up, but our Target Chevy was really good, really balanced up there. I was surprised. I wasn’t really sure what I would have, because on our up-to-speed laps up there, I was a little bit tight taking off, and then, I would be kind of loose off, so I was expecting to have that, but it stuck really well, and yeah, I saw the lap pop up on my dash, and I was pretty pumped. Can’t say enough about everybody on our Target team. They did an amazing job all day.”
Denny Hamlin, the series track-record holder, was fastest in the second round of qualifying with a 38.519-second/186.921 mph lap, but in the final round, he was runner-up to Larson to claim the other front-row starting spot.
“I thought it (third-round lap) was, definitely, a lap that would be in contention for it,” Hamlin said. “We imkproved our car just slightly from the previous run and it looked like our time was slightly faster, as well. I thought being the fastest car in round two with the .51, and then, improving in the final, I knew it put us very close. I didn’t get quite through (turns) three and four on entry as good as I needed to beat the 42 (Larson), it looked like.”
Kevin Harvick’s 38.245-second/188.260 mph opening-round lap was the fastest lap, overall, of the three-round qualifying session. But in the final round, he wound up seventh.
Brad Keselowski and Martin Truex Jr. were third and fourth in round three to claim second-row spots on Sunday’s starting grid, while Ryan Newman, the previous weekend’s race winner at Phoenix International Raceway, rounded out the top-five in qualifying.
Five drivers failed to make qualifying attempts, and as a result, will start Sunday’s race in the back on new tires. For Jimmie Johnson, the call not to participate in qualifying was made by crew chief Chad Knaus after Jimmie Johnson wrecked in practice, requiring the team to unload its backup car.
“Unfortunately, we crashed the Lowe’s Chevrolet in practice today,” Johnson’ crew chief Chad Knaus said. “We crashed on our third run and had to pull out the backup car and didn’t get back out on the track. I just felt it was wiser to get the car prepared correctly rather than qualify poorly. I wasn’t comfortable putting Jimmie in a position where he would have to hustle a car that he hasn’t turned a lap in, yet.”
Other drivers not making qualifying attempts included Joey Logano, Trevor Bayne, Matt DiBenedetto and Gray Gaulding, as their teams failed to get their cars through inspection in time to make a run in the first round.
Below, is the complete starting grid for Sunday’s Auto Club 400 at Auto Club Speedway:
Row 1 — Kyle Larson (No. 42 Chevrolet), Denny Hamlin (No. 11 Toyota)
Row 2 — Brad Keselowski (No. 2 Ford), Martin Truex Jr. (No. 78 Toyota)
Row 3 — Ryan Newman (No. 31 Chevrolet), Matt Kenseth (No. 20 Toyota)
Row 4 — Kevin Harvick (No. 4 Ford), Jamie McMurray (No. 1 Chevrolet)
Row 5 — Kyle Busch (No. 18 Toyota), Daniel Suarez (No. 19 Toyota)
Row 6 — Austin Dillon (No. 3 Chevrolet), Kasey Kahne (No. 5 Chevrolet)
Row 7 — Chase Elliott (No. 24 Chevrolet), Erik Jones (No. 77 Toyota)
Row 8 — Kurt Busch (No. 41 Ford), Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (No. 17 Ford)
Row 9 — Clint Bowyer (No. 14 Ford), Dale Earnhardt Jr. (No. 88 Chevrolet)
Row 10 — Ryan Blaney (No. 21 Ford), Chris Buescher (No. 37 Chevrolet)
Row 11 — Ty Dillon (No. 13 Chevrolet), Danica Patrick (No. 10 Chevrolet)
Row 12 — Paul Menard (No. 27 Chevrolet), A.J. Allmendinger (No. 47 Chevrolet)
Row 13 — Michael McDowell (No. 95 Chevrolet), Landon Cassill (No. 34 Ford)
Row 14 — David Ragan (No. 38 Ford), Cole Whitt (No. 72 Chevrolet)
Row 15 — Reed Sorenson (No. 15 Toyota), Corey LaJoie (No. 83 Toyota)
Row 16 — Aric Almirola (No. 43 Ford), Jeffrey Earnhardt (No. 33 Chevrolet)
Row 17 — Derrike Cope (No. 55 Chevrolet), Timmy Hill (No. 51 Chevrolet)
Row 18 — Joey Logano (No. 22 Ford), Trevor Bayne (No. 6 Ford)
Row 19 — Jimmie Johnson (No. 48 Chevrolet), Matt DiBenedetto (No. 32 Ford)
Row 20 — Gray Gaulding (No. 23 Toyota)