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.

Mario Andretti says Colton Herta could be next American star in F1

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Mario Andretti’s last Formula One victory is also the last by an American driver in more than 42 years on the international open-wheel road racing series.

If you had told Andretti that while he was celebrating on the Grand Prix of the Netherlands podium on Aug. 27, 1978 at the Vandzoort circuit, he wouldn’t have believed it.

“Absolutely not,” Andretti told Kyle Petty during the most recent “Coffee With Kyle” episode (video above). “It’s a shame. Somehow we have so much talent here, and either there’s no invitation or something there. But I think it’s time to give some of this young talent that, in my opinion, is absolutely capable.”

The Dutch GP was the last of Andretti’s 12 victories in F1 and came during his championship season. No one since has come close to matching his success in F1.

Mario Andretti drives his Lotus-Ford to victory in the 1978 Grand Prix of the Netherlands (Bernard Cahier/Getty Images).

Andretti’s son, Michael, took a full-time ride with McLaren in 1993 but left with three races remaining in a season marred by crashes and mechanical problems.

Scott Speed was the last American to run a full F1 season in 2006, and Alexander Rossi made the most recent F1 start by a U.S. driver in 2015. Rossi has said he has no desire to return to racing in Europe after winning the 2016 Indianapolis 500 and becoming an IndyCar championship contender.

But Mario Andretti believes Andretti Autosport has another rising star with F1-caliber ability.

“Colton Herta is one that comes to mind,” Mario Andretti said. “As a young lad, his dad sent him to Europe, he was doing Formula 3, and he knows most of the circuits there. He’s trained. He’s showed in his rookie season and won some premium races at COTA (and Laguna Seca), beat two of the very best Indy has to offer (in) Will Power and Scott Dixon.

“This is one kid I’d love to see him get a break over there to fly the U.S. colors again.”

Herta, 20, seems interested in exploring an F1 leap over the next few years. After winning Sept. 13 at Mid-Ohio from the pole position (his third career victory in the NTT IndyCar Series), the No. 88 Dallara-Honda driver is ranked fourth in the standings in his sophomore year and regarded as one of the series’ top prospects.

Herta recently told RACER.com “I’d love to give Formula 1 a crack” but said he also would be happy driving in IndyCar and IMSA.

A naturalized U.S. citizen who told Petty about spending several years with his family in an Italian refugee camp before coming to America, Mario Andretti said F1 brought an enormous sense of patriotic pride.

“Formula One is like the Olympics in a sense,” he said. “You’re in a different country, a different continent. When you earn that highest step of the podium, they play your national anthem. That’s when you take nothing for granted. You feel like I’m representing my country, and the proudest moments are those.

“I’d just like to see some other American drivers experience that. It’s time.”

Mario Andretti with four-time NASCAR champion Jeff Gordon and six-time Formula One champion Lewis Hamilton before the Nov. 22, 2015 season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway (Jared C. Tilton/NASCAR via Getty Images).

During the “Coffee With Kyle” conversation, Andretti also discussed:

–His versatility as a winner in IndyCar, sports cars, NASCAR and Formula One;

–His 1967 Daytona 500 victory and how he enjoyed racing with crew chief Jake Elder at the famed Holman-Moody team;

Mario Andretti Colton Herta
Mario Andretti and Kyle Petty saluted “The King” by wearing their Richard Petty-style hats during the latest “Coffee With Kyle” (NBCSN).

–Why he delayed his entry to F1 for a few years because of his earnings power in IndyCar. “I always say I’d race for free, but at the same time, you’re thinking of family and the future,” he said. “It was in the back of your mind that you can’t give up the earning power of IndyCar. That kept me from going full time in Formula One, but I always said that sometime in my career, I’d have to devote a period to Formula One.”

–On what it was like racing in an era when driver deaths were more prevalent. “If you’re going to do this, you’re not going to dwell on those negatives,” Andretti said. “There’s no way. You knew it was present. Especially in the ‘60s at the beginning of the season at the drivers meetings, you couldn’t help but look around and say, ‘I wonder who is not going to be here at the end of the season.’ We’d lose four to five guys. In ’64, we lost six guys.

“It’s something if you dwell on that, you’re going to take on a different profession. It’s a desire and love to want to drive that overcame all that and then the confidence it’s not going to happen to me. And then you pray.”

Watch the full “Coffee With Kyle” episode in the video above or by clicking here.

Mario Andretti looks on before the 103rd Indianapolis 500 on May 26, 2019 (Chris Graythen/Getty Images).