Carl Edwards takes the pole for road course race at Sonoma
SONOMA >> Carl Edwards edged AJ Allmendinger to earn the stop starting spot Sunday on the road course race at Sonoma Raceway.
Edwards ran a lap at 95.777 mph around the 10-turn, 1.99-mile track in qualifying Saturday to put his Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota in the top starting spot for the third time this season.
"Man this car is fast," said Edwards, the winner at Sonoma in 2014.
AJ Allmendinger qualified second with a lap at 95.676 mph in his JTG Daugherty Chevrolet. Allmendinger was last year's pole winner and believed he had a shot at it again on Saturday.
"When I saw Carl's first lap, I was like, I don't care what kind of lap I run, I'm never going to catch that," Allmendinger said. "There's no pressure on me. He's won here before. We just have to go out and have a solid day."
Despite being one of the best road course racers in NASCAR, Allmendinger has just one victory — two years ago at Watkins Glen. A win Sunday would give him a berth in the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship.
Edwards thought he "narrowly got the pole" over Allmendinger, and doesn't consider himself the sure favorite Sunday.
"I think every guy that is starting this race, every guy and girl, is looking at themselves as a favorite," he said. "This place is so tough and it's been so tough for me that a win would be spectacular. I really think it's going to be a tough race. It's going to be hot, it's going to be difficult."
Martin Truex Jr. qualified third in a Toyota for Furniture Row Racing, while Kurt Busch was fourth for Stewart-Haas Racing. Kyle Larson completed the top five, as Chevy drivers took three of the top five spots.
Denny Hamlin qualified sixth and was followed by Joey Logano, the highest-qualifying Ford driver, defending race winner Kyle Busch and Paul Menard. Tony Stewart, Danica Patrick and Brad Keselowski rounded out the top 12.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. was fastest in Friday's practice, but none of the Hendrick Motorsports drivers advanced into the second round of qualifying. Earnhardt will start 13th, Jimmie Johnson 15th, Chase Elliott 16th and Kasey Kahne 19th.
Other interesting information ahead of Sunday's race:
LARSON'S DISSAPOINTMENT: Larson is looking for his first Sprint Cup Series win and would love for it to come at his home track on Sunday. He was fastest in the first practice session on Friday, so he wasn't thrilled to wind up in the third row after qualifying.
"It's cool to be disappointed with a fifth," Larson said. "I thought we would have a really good shot at getting a pole and we still had a shot. We will see how we race. Just have to keep the rear tires underneath me and make no mistakes and hopefully get a win."
Larson is 22nd in the Sprint Cup standings.
LUPTON DEBUT: California native Dylan Lupton will make his Sprint Cup Series debut at Sonoma after qualifying 38th.
Lupton ran in back-to-back Xfinity Series races at Phoenix and Fontana earlier this season. He's teamed with crew chief Mike Ford for his Cup debut, and Ford led Lupton to a ninth-place finish at Mid-Ohio last year.
Lupton is a recent graduate from UNC-Charlotte, and has two NASCAR K&N Pro Series West wins at Sonoma.
"This is such a blessing to make my Sprint Cup Series debut at Sonoma," he said. "For the race, our goal is to see the checkered flag. If we can race the race track and stay on the track all day and have a little bit of luck, I think we have a shot at a top-25 finish. That would be huge for me. I'm just going to stay focused behind the wheel and do my job."
MORE ROAD COURSES: NASCAR makes just two stops a year at road courses, and six-time champion Jimmie Johnson thinks that can be expanded.
The series runs at Sonoma and then again at Watkins Glen in upstate New York in August. Everything else on the schedule is an oval.
"It's fun racing," he said. "I really enjoy it. I wish we did more. To have two road course races a year, you just kind of get into the swing of things, and we leave the Glen and you put it on the shelf and wait eight months or something and then do it again."
The last 11 races at Sonoma have produced just one repeat winner, Kyle Busch, which is a change from history. In the past, only a handful of drivers excelled on road course and teams would hire ringers to come in just for the event.
"I think we've seen a real interesting shift in the last 10 years, where the road course ringers have come in and they aren't taking the trophies home; it's really the NASCAR regulars," he said. "I think it shows the versatility we have as drivers and the teams as well, that set up the car and make the car get around here."
TALK TO US
If you'd like to leave a comment (or a tip or a question) about this story with the editors, please email us. We also welcome letters to the editor for publication; you can do that by filling out our letters form and submitting it to the newsroom.