Kyle Larson/No.42 DC Solar Chevrolet has the pole for the 30th Annual Toyota/Save Mart 350 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race, with a lap of 94.597 mph/1:15.732. It did not break the qualifying track record he set in 2015 of 96.568 mph/1:14.186. This is Larson’s sixth Cup pole position, and back to back from Sonoma last year. It also is the 697th overall Cup pole win for Chevrolet in the series, and 15th at Sonoma Raceway.
Larson said “It’s cool to get a pole at my own home track here in Sonoma; and DC Solar’s home track as well. Qualifying here is one of my favorite things of the year. So, I’m glad we could pick up a lot of time there and get the pole.”
It was 93 degrees at the start of Cup Qualifying, with 33 percent humidity and winds of five mph. It continued to heat up to 101, the wind picked up and the humidity continued to drop. The Cup qualifying session was delayed due to extensive cleanup during qualifying for the K&N Pro Series West Carneros 200 Race, after the track was extensively oiled from the Esses to Pit Lane. The announcer said it resembled the oil slick from the Exxon Valdeez. Billy Kahn/18 Interstate Batteries Chevrolet grenaded his engine and flamed out while driving through Turn 8, leaving a swath not unlike the Exxon Valdez. With the humidity already low and lowering by the minute, no doubt Kahn felt it was wiser to continue to the pits rather than pull his flaming car off into the tinder-dry grass.
The course condition was of concern to Larson. “Yeah, I think we were all, or at least I was a little concerned with all the speedy dry over there. Even if it doesn’t affect the grip it is still in your head and you can see it and it affects you. I wouldn’t say I tip-toed through there, but I was a little more cautious the first round through all the speedy dry and through the esses and stuff. But then, once you get through there after the first round it seems fine. You can kind of just forget about it the second round and I think that is what I did.”
Martin Truex, Jr/No.78 5-hour ENERGY/Bass Pro Shops Toyota “I missed a little bit in Turn Two, I think. I missed my line a little bit and bumped the corner a little bit more than I would have liked to and I was a little late getting back to the gas there. I think I lost some time exiting two. Overall it was a really good lap.”
Regarding the effect of the oil dry on his qualifying, Truex said “It didn’t affect me, it affected the way the qualifying session went, without a question. You could see that nobody wanted to be the first on the track. You could see that the guys that went out early were really slow. It’s really unfortunate when those things happen in a 25 minute session. You get down to 15 minutes to go, or something like that and everybody starts to get really antsy. You don’t want to jump the gun and go too early or you’ll be too slow which we have seen some guys do. It’s just one of those things. It’s really difficult, I wish they would have done a better job cleaning the track up. It appeared they didn’t have the equipment needed for it. The only way to really get the rest of it off is to run cars on it, unfortunately it was qualifying.”
Left to Right: Chase Elliott, Jamie McMurray, and AJ Allmendinger.
Third through fifth were Chase Elliott/No.9 NAPA Auto Parts Chevrolet; Larson’s Chip Ganassi Racing teammate, Jamie McMurray/No.1 Cessna Chevrolet; and AJ Allmendinger/No.47 Kroger ClickList Chevrolet – who also has had a pole position at Sonoma.
Four of the top five were Chevrolets. Points leader Kyle Busch/No.18 M&M Caramels Toyota qualified ninth.
For Cup qualifying, they had two groups. The first group was the field, and AJ Allmendinger/No.47 Kroger ClickList Chevrolet was fastest at 94.4770 mph/1:15.828. The second group was the top 12 from Group One.
During Cup Group One, more than several of the drivers sat up in ‘The Bus Stop’ by Turn 9 area waiting for a clear spot to take their flying lap. They were playing chicken with the clock.
Left to Right: Will Rodgers, William Byron, and Hallie Deegan.
Will Rodgers/No.7 KELLY Benefits Strategies Ford took the pole position for the K&N Pro Series West Carneros 200 Race with a lap of 90.591 mph/1:19.081, faster than he ran Friday. He was in the third of the three qualifying groups with the third being the fastest, based on Friday practice speeds. His lap and that of William Byron/No.27 Liberty Chevrolet pipped the top speed of Group Two leader, Rookie Hailie Deegan/No.19 No.19 Mobil 1/NAPA Power Premium Plus Toyota, who will grid third.
The K&N West qualifying track record of 92.794 mph/1:17.203 at Sonoma was set by Cup driver, Kyle Larson on 21 June 2014. He holds the qualifying records in both NASCAR series which run at Sonoma. A native of nearby Elk Grove CA, Sonoma could be considered his ‘home’ track.
In the first group, Cole Keats/No.55 Peters & Keats Equipment Ford was fastest at 86.659 mph/122.669. There was drama in Group Two, first with Deegan jumping from mid-pack times to fastest. This is her first road course and her lap was 89.8270 mph/1:19.753. The other drama was Kahn’s car fire.
Group Three had to drive through the oil slick. By the end of their first qualifying lap, the caution came out to check the course conditions, after drivers had radioed in. A lengthy track cleanup prolonged the afternoon.
The scrutineering process for the MENCS has changed this year, with a more formalized, technilogical process. There are four stations the cars must visit, with the third now being in a closed, darkened tent with black flaps at each end, the better to protect the laser equipment measuring the various dimensions. The first three are in the paddock, and the fourth was in Pit Lane, after which time the cars lined up for Qualifying. Normally the crew members push the car station to station, remaining with the car during the process and sometimes doing things directed by NASCAR officials. In watching Jimmie Johnson/No.48 Lowe’s for Pros Chevrolet going through a station, it was interesting to watch the ever-vigilant Crew Chief, Chad Knaus, one of the more technically creative Crew Chiefs, watching every single move and checking the car stem to stern before it rolled into the station.