SONOMA, Calif. — Jamie McMurray took the time to help rookie teammate Kyle Larson learn the road course at Sonoma Raceway.
The payoff for working together was two Chip Ganassi Racing cars in the top three of the starting field of today’s race.
McMurray won the pole for today’s race with a track record lap that bumped AJ Allmendinger from the top starting spot, and Larson qualified a surprising third.
Allmendinger seemed to have the pole locked down until McMurray turned a lap at 96.350 mph in the final minute of Saturday’s qualifying session. It broke the record of 95.262 mph set by Marcos Ambrose in 2012.
“Great lap, I am so excited,” McMurray said. “I thought our car in race trim was really good, really good on the long runs. We’re not going to change a whole lot, I feel really good about it.”
It’s the first pole of the season for McMurray, 10th of his career, and third at Sonoma. McMurray also started from the pole last year but finished 25th.
He called the qualifying session stressful under NASCAR’s new knockout format.
McMurray was on the verge of being eliminated in the first of the two rounds, but he went out for one last lap to advance into the top 12. Then he bumped Allmendinger as the clock wound down on the final 10-minute session.
“I think everybody in the garage area has been stressed out about trying to get that clean lap in qualifying all weekend long,” McMurray said. “This knockout qualifying is just an emotional roller-coaster. There’s a lot of highs and lows with it.”
Allmendinger wound up second in a race he believes he can win. He was out of the Sprint Cup Series a year ago because of a failed random NASCAR drug test in 2012, so while the series was racing at Sonoma, Allmendinger was in the Nationwide Series race at Road America.
He delivered in the Wisconsin race for his first career victory and found his way back into a full-time ride in Cup. He wasn’t disappointed after McMurray bumped him from the pole, but it eyeing another win.
“We were in position to have (the pole), so it could be a lot worse,” Allmendinger said. “It sucks when you are that close, but you know what? Jamie put in a heck of a lap. We’ve got a clean view of the track when we go green and we’re going to have some fun tomorrow. We’ve got a pretty good shot to win this thing.”
Carl Edwards was fourth followed by Kurt Busch, Kevin Harvick and Ryan Newman. The rest of the top 12 included Brian Vickers, Paul Menard, Joey Logano, Danica Patrick and Casey Mears.