Sunday’s Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Sonoma Raceway is unquestionably one of AJ Allmendinger’s best opportunities to get a win and earn a berth in the 2015 Chase for the Sprint Cup.
He sure did drive like it in Saturday’s qualifying session at the 1.99-mile road course in Northern California.
Allmendinger, arguably the series’ best road racer, who made the Chase with a win in last year’s road-course event at Watkins Glen, topped all qualifiers at Sonoma with a lap of 96.310 mph in his No. 47 JTG Daugherty Racing Chevrolet.
Former series champions Kurt Busch (96.095), Matt Kenseth, were second and third, respectively, as California natives Kyle Larson and Jeff Gordon joined Allmendinger to make it three drivers from the Golden State in the top five.
The pole was the third of Allmendinger’s Sprint Cup Series career and his first on a road course.
The former IndyCar and Champ Car World Series driver gave his team major credit for his pole-winning performance.
“Honestly, it’s just hard preparation from all my guys,” said Allmendinger, a native of Los Gatos, Calif. “They’ve just worked so hard.”
Qualifying was not without incident, as the No. 18 Toyota of Kyle Busch — the fastest driver in Friday’s final practice — spun and kicked up a huge cloud of dust with seven minutes still on the clock in the second and final round.
Barely missing Kyle Busch was older brother Kurt, who went on to qualify second.
“It was a dangerous situation,” Kurt said.
Kyle Busch’s spin also stopped the clock, nullifying the laps of the drivers who were on track at the time.
Failing to make the final round consisting of just a dozen drivers were Jimmie Johnson (13th), Carl Edwards (14th), Denny Hamlin (15th), Kevin Harvick (17th), Dale Earnhardt Jr. (20th) and Danica Patrick (21st), among other big names.
Earnhardt experienced a problem with his transmission getting stuck in gear during qualifying, which will necessitate a transmission change ahead of Sunday afternoon’s race.
Notably frustrated among the group that missed the final round was Harvick, the points leader and reigning Sprint Cup Series champion.
“What section didn’t I screw up?” Harvick asked, rhetorically, when questioned on which section of the 10-turn track caused him the most trouble.
The only driver who failed to qualify was Brendan Gaughan.
VIDEO: The Busch brothers have a close call when Kyle Busch spins out during qualifying