SONOMA — As the years go by, Jamie McMurray is falling more in love with Sonoma Raceway.
McMurray made his final qualifying lap his best and earned the pole for Sunday’s Toyota/Save Mart 350.
With his effort, McMurray set a new track record, covering the 1.99-mile, 10-turn circuit in 74.354 seconds with an average speed of 96.350 seconds. It was McMurray’s first pole of the season and third in 12 races – second in a row – in the Wine Country.
AJ Allmendinger (74.557, 96.008) qualified second and rookie Kyle Larson was third (74.670, 95.942).
“The last segment was very good,” McMurray said. “I was nervous when I pulled out for the first segment because in the first lap the track had no grip. It was way worse than what we had in practice (Friday). But it was the same for everybody so I just drove the car at 90 percent to make sure you get a good lap put together.
“I was a little disappointed that we had to go back out and make another lap to get into the Top 12 (final qualifying). I felt like that was going to ruin our chances of getting a good spot.”
McMurray also knows that qualifying well and finishing well in the race are two different things.
“This race is about having a good strategy and a little bit of luck,” the driver of the No. 1 car said. “It’s about not getting run into in Turn 4 and Turn 7 on restarts. I’ve run enough races here that I’ve had every condition you could have, like running out of gas . . . getting wrecked in Turn 7 on a restart because somebody from like 15th dive-bombs into the corner that had no chance to make (the pass).
“It’s like any other weekend, you have to put it all together, the strategy, the car, and you have to make good decisions as a driver.”
Allmendinger was a little surprised that he wound up second in qualifying.
“Going into qualifying, I honestly didn’t think we had a great car,” Allmendinger said. “I felt like I put in two good laps out there. You can nit-pick and say I lost a little bit here, a little bit there, but Jamie put in a hell of a lap so congrats to him. . . . It’s going to be a long battle (Sunday) but we got a good starting spot. We’ll have a clean view and we’ll go have some fun (Sunday).”
The rookie Larson, who also earned the pole for the K&N Pro West Series Saturday, also knows he’s still learning and will continue to on race day.
“I think I struggled through S (Turns) a lot so far this weekend, but I’ve gotten better on a couple of things, just being patient,” he said. “I think that carried over from the K&N car to this car. I still have a lot more to learn, though. I’m sure I’ll learn a lot (during the race). I just want to stay out of trouble and have a good finish. I think we have a good shot at winning.”
It wasn’t a great day of qualifying for Hendrick Motorsports. None of the four drivers even made the final 12 qualifying spots. Jeff Gordon (74.975, 95.552) qualified 15th, Dale Earnhardt Jr. (75.046, 95.461) was 17th, Jimmie Johnson (75.176, 95.296) was 22nd and Kasey Kahne (75.518, 94.865) was 30th.
NOTES: After a so-so day in practice Friday, Danica Patrick made the final 12 of qualifying and will start 11th Sunday. . . . Former Sonoma winner Kyle Busch couldn’t find his groove Saturday and will start 20th. . . . Road-course specialist Marcos Ambrose was also off his game and qualified 23rd, with fellow road racer Boris Said starting 41 out of the 43 entries.
Reach Brian Arnold at 427-6969 or [email protected] Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/barnolddr.