Jamie McMurray on pole for Sprint Cup at Sonoma

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As part of the final group of qualifiers Saturday at Sonoma Raceway, Jamie McMurray came through with a clutch lap of 75.422 seconds around the serpentine California circuit to win pole for tomorrow’s Toyota/Save Mart 350 ahead of one of NASCAR’s top road racers, Marcos Ambrose.

McMurray notched his fast lap with three minutes remaining in his group’s five-minute run around Sonoma, holding off Ambrose for his first Sprint Cup pole position since Martinsville in the spring of 2011. The Roush Fenway Racing duo of Carl Edwards and Greg Biffle will make up Row 2, followed by defending race winner Clint Bowyer and Matt Kenseth in Row 3.

“You base your lap first off on how it feels and how much rev limiter you hit with your shifting, and I didn’t feel like I hit as much rev limiter as I did yesterday when we only ran a [75.9-second lap],” McMurray told SPEED Channel afterwards. “I wasn’t sure, but it’s a really good day.

“…This race, a lot of times, comes down to the last restart and not getting in trouble on that last restart, so we’ll just keep digging and fight all day. I think our car will have enough speed [in the race], and it’ll just be about not making mistakes.”

Ambrose, who collected his second front row start of the season, had to deal with a momentary loss of power on his car as he attempted to secure the pole for himself.

“We were just getting up to speed there, just rolled around a lap while trying to save tires – tires here are critical,” Ambrose explained on SPEED. “I hammered down coming off Turn 12 and the engine just cut off and I lost all momentum getting to the green. It came back, but I lost at least two or three tenths or so.”

Kurt Busch, Joey Logano, Kyle Busch and Jeff Gordon will round out the Top 10 on the grid. Other notables in qualifying include championship leader Jimmie Johnson in 19th, Dale Earnhardt Jr. in 26th and Danica Patrick in 31st for her first stock car start at Sonoma.

Today marked the Sprint Cup debut for the group qualifying format on road courses, in which cars go out in groups of five or six cars and get five minutes of green flag racing to set times; the fastest time is their lap of record on the grid.

IndyCar 2017 driver review: Sebastien Bourdais

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MotorSportsTalk continues its annual review of the Verizon IndyCar Series drivers that raced in 2017. A dream start occurred for Sebastien Bourdais and the Dale Coyne Racing team upon their reunion, followed by a nightmare in Indianapolis with a huge crash in qualifying, and ended with a rapid recovery to build confidence for 2018.

Sebastien Bourdais, No. 18 Dale Coyne Racing Honda

  • 2016: 14th Place, 1 Win, Best Start 3rd, 1 Podium, 3 Top-5, 11 Top-10, 24 Laps Led, 11.9 Avg. Start, 11.2 Avg. Finish
  • 2017: 21st Place (8 Starts), 1 Win, Best Start 6th, 2 Podiums, 2 Top-5, 5 Top-10, 74 Laps Led, 12.4 Avg. Start, 11.0 Avg. Finish

The 2017 campaign for Sebastien Bourdais upon his return to Dale Coyne Racing will forever be known as both a year of “what could have been” and a year of “what a comeback it was.”

The abnormal season for Bourdais stretched eight races with a three-month break in the middle owing to his own mistake qualifying for the Indianapolis 500, which left him with multiple pelvic fractures and a fracture to his right hip. His car was a rocket ship; but after two laps at 231 mph, Bourdais appeared to over-correct and destroyed the wall at Turn 2 in Indy in a massive 127G impact. It was a horrific looking accident, but one that also saw Bourdais rather lucky to have not been injured worse.

It set forth in motion an incredible recovery that saw Bourdais back testing the Monday after Mid-Ohio, just over two months since the accident, then in race action just over three months later at the 1.25-mile Gateway Motorsports Park oval, and because Bourdais is a regulation badass, he finished in the top-10 straight out of the box. He worked as hard as he did to return earlier than anticipated to avoid an offseason of questions asking if he’d come back and if he’d be strong enough to do so.

The recovery was a welcome story to end the year after the agony at Indy that stopped a potential title run or certainly top-five in points finish in its tracks. A classic Coyne strategy special vaulted Bourdais from last to first and a popular win in his U.S. hometown of St. Petersburg to kick off the year. A second place at Long Beach backed it up and eighth at Barber kept him atop the standings.

But Indy was shaping up to be an important bounce back weekend after Bourdais got taken out in Phoenix, then incurred an engine failure in the IMS road course race. And then, of course, his loud and violent accident qualifying for the ‘500 changed the course of the season.

After three “almost there” but largely unfulfilling years at KV Racing Technology, Bourdais embraced the family atmosphere back at Coyne along with longtime engineers Craig Hampson and Olivier Boisson, determined to continue punching above the team’s weight. He crafted a remarkable story all season and will be keen to fulfill it over the course of a proper full campaign in 2018.