After finishing second in the last three races, Kyle Larson finally won something. Larson won his second career NASCAR Cup pole Friday, putting down a lap of 38.493 seconds, 187.047 mph two minutes into the final five-minute round and will lead the field to the green for Sunday’s Auto Club 400 at Auto Club Speedway.
Larson ran a low line during the first two rounds. On his pole qualifying run however, he changed his line and went higher.
“I felt like I messed up there in (Turns) 1 and 2 and I got a little bit loose off the wall on entry and it got me to split the seam in (Turns) 1 and 2,” Larson said. “But I was able to get committed to wide-open pretty good off of (Turn) 2 and then, yeah, I hadn’t run up high in (Turns) 3 and 4 at all in practice or qualifying here. Didn’t really know what I would have when I got there, but ran a good ways and it stuck. Really happy though, our Target team has been amazing to start the season and to get a pole is great. I haven’t gotten a pole since my rookie season.”
Denny Hamlin who led the second session and broke the track qualifying record here last season held the provisional pole until that point. He will roll off second Sunday. Brad Keselowski survived a brush with the wall in the second round to secure third. Martin Truex Jr. will start fourth, his best start at Fontana, and last week’s winner at Phoenix Ryan Newman starts fifth.
“I thought it was definitely a lap that would be in contention for it,” Hamlin said. “We improved 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) 3 and 4 on entry as good as I needed to beat the 42 (Kyle Larson) it looked like. All my exits were very good, but my entries were just a little bit slow. I knew that it would be close, but running a 50, I thought we probably would have got beat.”
Among the cars that didn’t qualify were Jimmie Johnson, who crashed in Friday’s practice. The team pulled out the backup car and elected not to risk damaging it in qualifying. The six-time Fontana winner will start 37th Sunday. Four cars never made it out of pre-qualifying inspection. They included Trevor Bayne, Matt DiBenedetto, Gray Gaulding, and Joey Logano. Logano’s Ford was cleared but with less than 30 seconds left in the first 20-minute round, the team ran out of time.
“That happens,” Logano said. “We’re a team. Obviously, everyone is trying to push it and trying to get every ounce of speed out of our cars as we can. I don’t even know what we didn’t make it through. We made it through, but by the time we got through and got strapped in and got the car ready to go on the track we just ran out of time. It’s no big deal. I feel like our Auto Club Fusion was really fast in race trim, and a good thing it is because it doesn’t really matter about qualifying trim at this point, so we’ll work on it a little bit tomorrow and we’ll get ready to pass cars. This is a wide race track, so you can pass cars. We’ll have our work cut out, but it’s nothing we can’t overcome.”
Matt Kenseth will start sixth, followed by Kevin Harvick who led the first round. Jamie McMurray, Kyle Busch and Daniel Suarez round out the top 10. Austin Dillon and Kasey Kahne will start 11th and 12th respectively as the final two cars to transfer to the final round.
With 39 teams entered, no one was sent home.
Sunday’s Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Auto Club 400 will get the green flag just after 3:30 p.m. ET with live coverage on Fox starting at 3:00 p.m. ET.