Matt Kenseth will start Sunday's Auto Club 400 at Auto Club Speedway from the pole. The race was declared sold-out on Saturday.

Matt Kenseth earns pole for Sprint Cup at Fontana

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Last weekend at Bristol Motor Speedway, Matt Kenseth had a roller-coaster outing that saw him finish 13th after charging to the lead following an early crash that left his car’s rear end crumpled in.

The former Sprint Cup champion is surely hoping for a smoother time of things at Auto Club Speedway this weekend, and he may just have that after earning the 12th Cup pole of his career this afternoon ahead of Sunday’s Auto Club 400.

Kenseth logged a time of 38.438 seconds at 187.315 miles per hour in the No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota. That was just enough to hold off Brad Keselowski, whose last-second attempt to take pole in the No. 2 Team Penske Ford missed by .043 of a second.

“We were pretty fast all three rounds and we were able to get three really clean laps, which is hard to do here,” Kenseth told MRN Radio.

“The tires drop off a lot, balance changes a little bit, and the track was changing as well. I’m proud of those guys. They gave me a great car today and I didn’t mess it up, so it turned out good.”

Meanwhile, Keselowski – the new Sprint Cup points leader – continued his impressive work in the knockout qualifying format with his fourth consecutive front row start.

As a low-grip race track with bumps and noticeable seams in the surface, Auto Club Speedway can be a tough track to get a hold of. But as Keselowski told MRN, drivers can’t afford to manage their rubber if they want to advance deeper into qualifying.

“You can’t save [tires] or you don’t get to the next round,” he said. “We weren’t where we wanted to be for the first two sessions, but we worked on it, kept going, and got it to where we wanted it to be. If we’d saved, we never would’ve made it that far.”

Five-time Fontana winner Jimmie Johnson will roll off from the inside of Row 2 alongside fellow California native Kevin Harvick. Clint Bowyer and Jeff Gordon make up Row 3, followed by Joey Logano and Marcos Ambrose in Row 4, Carl Edwards and Tony Stewart in Row 5, and Kyle Larson and Martin Truex Jr. in Row 6.

Denny Hamlin, who suffered a season-altering back injury in last spring’s race at Fontana, will start 13th and next to defending Auto Club 400 champion Kyle Busch. Dale Earnhardt Jr. will be right behind them in 15th at the drop of the green.

Other notables include: Kurt Busch in 17th, Jamie McMurray in 25th, Kasey Kahne in 26th, Danica Patrick in 27th, and Camping World Truck Series champion Matt Crafton in 30th.

Crafton subbed in today for Paul Menard in the No. 27 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet, while Menard tended to his wife and newborn daughter, Remi, back home in North Carolina.

However, Menard will be in the No. 27 for Sunday’s race, although he’ll have to start at the rear of the field per NASCAR rules.

NASCAR SPRINT CUP QUALIFYING – AUTO CLUB 400
Unofficial Grid


1. Matt Kenseth, 38.438 seconds/187.315 mph
2. Brad Keselowski
3. Jimmie Johnson
4. Kevin Harvick
5. Clint Bowyer
6. Jeff Gordon
7. Joey Logano
8. Marcos Ambrose
9. Carl Edwards
10. Tony Stewart
11. Kyle Larson
12. Martin Truex Jr.
ELIMINATED IN ROUND TWO
13. Denny Hamlin
14. Kyle Busch
15. Dale Earnhardt Jr.
16. Ryan Newman
17. Kurt Busch
18. A.J. Allmendinger
19. Brian Vickers
20. Austin Dillon
21. Aric Almirola
22. Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
23. Michael Annett
24. Greg Biffle
ELIMINATED IN ROUND ONE
25. Jamie McMurray
26. Kasey Kahne
27. Danica Patrick
28. Justin Allgaier
29. David Gilliland
30. Matt Crafton
31. Casey Mears
32. Parker Kligerman
33. David Reutimann
34. Cole Whitt
35. Travis Kvapil
36. Reed Sorenson
37. Brian Scott
38. Josh Wise
39. Ryan Truex
40. Alex Bowman
41. David Ragan
42. Joe Nemechek
43. Landon Cassill

Raikkonen: P4 in Russian GP qualifying ‘better than nothing’

SOCHI, RUSSIA - APRIL 29: Kimi Raikkonen of Finland driving the (7) Scuderia Ferrari SF16-H Ferrari 059/5 turbo (Shell GP) on track during practice for the Formula One Grand Prix of Russia at Sochi Autodrom on April 29, 2016 in Sochi, Russia.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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Kimi Raikkonen says that qualifying fourth for the Russian Grand Prix is “better than nothing” after struggling to get to grips with his Ferrari SF16-H car at the Sochi Autodrom.

Raikkonen finished fourth in Saturday’s Q3 session, and will move up to third place on the grid for tomorrow’s race thanks to Ferrari teammate Sebastian Vettel’s grid penalty.

Despite being in a position to lead the Italian marque’s charge against Mercedes and make the most of Lewis Hamilton’s grid penalty, Raikkonen was far from jubilant after qualifying.

The Finn had been set to take third in Q3, only to make a mistake on his final qualifying lap that meant he was unable to improve his time, leaving him P4 at the checkered flag.

“The whole weekend has been tricky: for whatever reason, I struggled all the time to put one decent lap together,” Raikkonen said.

“In qualifying it was a bit better, but I was still fighting with the front end in a few places. It could have been good enough for a second or a third place on the grid, but on my last lap I completely missed the last corner and slid away.

“Obviously I’m a disappointed with what happened, but considering how difficult it has been, this result it’s not ideal but it’s better than nothing.

“At least we are in third place at the start, we’ll see what happens tomorrow, I think in the race it’s going to be better.”

The Russian Grand Prix is live on CNBC and Live Extra from 7am ET on Sunday.

Williams’ updates take Bottas to P2 on Russian GP grid

SOCHI, RUSSIA - APRIL 30: Valtteri Bottas of Finland driving the (77) Williams Martini Racing Williams FW38 Mercedes PU106C Hybrid turbo on track during final practice ahead of the Formula One Grand Prix of Russia at Sochi Autodrom on April 30, 2016 in Sochi, Russia.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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Valtteri Bottas’ hopes of ending his difficult start to the 2016 Formula 1 season were given a boost after he qualified third for the Russian Grand Prix on Saturday in Sochi.

Bottas scored just seven points in the opening three races of the year, but said earlier this week that he was confident that an upturn in fortunes was not far away.

Williams brought a number of new parts to Sochi for the race in a bid to get back in front of Red Bull in the pecking order, and they appear to have the desired effect in qualifying on Saturday.

Bottas qualified third with teammate Felipe Massa finishing fifth, but both will gain a place on the grid by virtue of Sebastian Vettel’s grid penalty.

“Very good qualifying, really pleased how it all went,” Bottas said.

“This weekend has been very positive. We have some new bits on the car and the car has been feeling better. It’s also a good track for us.

“I’m glad we could maximise the qualifying today. Pleased with that, but it’s tomorrow what counts.

“So far my Sundays haven’t been so great, but I’m sure tomorrow we have a chance to have a good one.”

The Russian Grand Prix is live on CNBC and Live Extra from 7am ET on Sunday.

Vettel: No frustration over Ferrari’s lack of reliability

SOCHI, RUSSIA - APRIL 30: Sebastian Vettel of Germany driving the (5) Scuderia Ferrari SF16-H Ferrari 059/5 turbo (Shell GP) on track during final practice ahead of the Formula One Grand Prix of Russia at Sochi Autodrom on April 30, 2016 in Sochi, Russia.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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Sebastian Vettel does not feel frustrated about Ferrari’s reliability problems at the start of the 2016 Formula 1 season, saying “it’s part of racing”.

Ferrari entered 2016 hopeful of mounting a serious challenge to the all-conquering Mercedes team, only for issues on its cars in Australia and Bahrain to limit it to a one-car finish.

Vettel’s plight continued on Friday in Russia when an issue forced him to stop out on track during practice, ultimately resulting in a gearbox change and a grid penalty.

Vettel qualified second at the Sochi Autodrom on Saturday behind pole-sitter Nico Rosberg, but will drop back to seventh for the start of the race.

“Of course I would have liked the gap in the end to have been a bit smaller but we saw in Q2 Nico in particular was very strong getting the lap in,” Vettel said.

“I think for us it was the maximum. We benefitted from what happened to Lewis [Hamilton]. I’m not sure what exactly it was, but it allowed us to go P2 which helps tomorrow with the penalty.

“We’re a bit closer starting on the clean side of the track. I think we can have a good race from there. It should be quite exciting. The car feels good. I think all weekend has been quite strong. We lost some time, but I think we made it up this morning so it shouldn’t be an issue.”

Vettel said that he does not feel frustrated about Ferrari’s reliability issues, saying that there is still a long way to go in the season.

“Not frustrated at all. Obviously it’s not nice if these things happen because they don’t make your life easier,” Vettel said.

“But equally it’s part of racing. These things can happen. They didn’t happen on purpose, they weren’t planned. We’re been pushing very hard to try and catch up which I think especially in race pace we’ve proven already this year.

“Obviously we didn’t have a properly clean race yet this year. Maybe we’ll have tomorrow, you never know, it’s a long race and a long way especially around here. There’s a lot of things that can happen.

“I think we have to wait and see. It’s still April, tomorrow is May, and there’s a long, long way to go. It’s a long championship. It’s important to do your best to get the maximum points every single time and the rest you’ll find out anyway.”

The Russian Grand Prix is live on CNBC from 7am ET on Sunday.

Hamilton set to start 10th in Russia as luckless run continues

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Lewis Hamilton’s run of bad luck continued in qualifying for the Russian Grand Prix on Saturday as an issue on his power unit prevented him from taking part in the final session.

Hamilton has slipped 36 points behind Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg after the first three races of the 2016 season, with an issue on his power unit forcing him to start last in China two weeks ago.

Hamilton arrived in Sochi hopeful of cutting the gap to Rosberg, and looked set to run the German close for pole position on Saturday afternoon.

After lapping almost half a second slower than Rosberg in Q2, Hamilton was sent back out by Mercedes later in the session despite not being at risk of losing his place in Q3.

It soon unfolded that Hamilton was in fact heading out to test his power unit, and he soon reported a loss of power similar to the one that prevented him from taking part in qualifying for the Chinese GP.

As a result, Mercedes had to bring Hamilton into the pits and end his day after Q2, leaving him 10th in the final qualifying classification.

While Rosberg was able to ease to his second pole position of the season, Hamilton was left deflated, telling reporters: “I went out at the end of Q2 to get a feel and I lost the same power as I lost in China.

“There’s nothing I can do. I never give up.”

The Russian Grand Prix is live on CNBC from 7am ET on Sunday.