Jamie McMurray claims 2nd consecutive Sonoma pole

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Last year in qualifying at Sonoma Raceway, Jamie McMurray put together a late flyer to snatch the pole from Marcos Ambrose.

Today in Northern California, he did it again. This time, A.J. Allmendinger was the victim as McMurray posted a lap of 74.354 seconds in the waning moments to capture pole for tomorrow’s Toyota/Save Mart 350.

“I was really shocked that I could run faster on our third run,” McMurray told PRN Radio.

“We went faster every time we went out. We made a couple of changes to the car, and I’m not sure where the speed came from. But it was a really good lap.

“The key here is to get off [Turns] 11 and [then] 7 with the drive, and I could never really get wide open in any of those in first, second or third gear off of those corners. But we kind of had all the rest of it down.”

As for tomorrow’s race, McMurray believes that there will be a major difference compared to Sonoma races of years gone by.

“I think you’re going to see more pit stops when the cautions come out,” he said. “Tires are so important, more important than ever.

“Normally at a road course, you run [the strategy] backwards and everyone pits 10 laps before they can make it on fuel hoping they can get some cautions. But I think you’ll see guys put [more] tires on tomorrow, so it should be a good race.”

McMurray’s teammate at Chip Ganassi Racing, rookie Kyle Larson, had a strong effort in qualifying and will line up on the inside of Row 2.

Larson will get additional track time today by competing in the K&N Pro Series West race, joining fellow Cup racers Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Michael Annett, Justin Allgaier and Austin Dillon.

Carl Edwards will start along side Larson in Row 2, followed by Stewart Haas teammates Kurt Busch and Kevin Harvick in Row 3. Ryan Newman and Brian Vickers are in Row 4, and Paul Menard and Joey Logano will roll off from Row 5.

Also having solid qualifying days were Danica Patrick and Casey Mears, who are set for Row 6 on the grid.

As for Hendrick Motorsports, which has won the last five Sprint Cup points races, they’ll have some work to do in order to push that hot streak to six.

All four HMS drivers failed to make the final round: California native Jeff Gordon qualified 15th, followed by Dale Earnhardt Jr. in 17th, Michigan winner Jimmie Johnson in 22nd, and Kasey Kahne in 30th.

“We pride ourselves on being good at the road courses especially at Sonoma, and [being] six-hundredths of a second from making it [to the final round] is disappointing,” Gordon said.

“But I think the bigger disappointment for us is how many guys went out and were so much faster the second time out – and we didn’t pick up. That’s a bit of a concern. Obviously, we’ll talk to our teammates and see what they were dealing with as well.”

Earnhardt appeared to blame his failure to advance from the first round on Tomy Drissi, one of the road course “ringers” in this weekend’s race:

As for Johnson, it’s his worst starting spot at Sonoma since the 2007 race (started 42nd, finished 17th).

Defending Sonoma winner Martin Truex Jr. qualified in 18th position, while a trio of NASCAR’s best road racers – Tony Stewart, Marcos Ambrose and Clint Bowyer – shall start in mid pack.

Stewart, Ambrose, and Bowyer are all searching for a win that will get them into the Chase, but will have to come from 21st, 23rd, and 25th respectively.

NASCAR SPRINT CUP SERIES AT SONOMA – STARTING LINEUP
Toyota/Save Mart 350
1. Jamie McMurray (74.354 seconds, 96.350 mph)
2. A.J. Allmendinger
3. Kyle Larson
4. Carl Edwards
5. Kurt Busch
6. Kevin Harvick
7. Ryan Newman
8. Brian Vickers
9. Paul Menard
10. Joey Logano
11. Danica Patrick
12. Casey Mears
13. Brad Keselowski
14. Matt Kenseth
15. Jeff Gordon
16. Denny Hamlin
17. Dale Earnhardt Jr.
18. Martin Truex Jr.
19. Greg Biffle
20. Kyle Busch
21. Tony Stewart
22. Jimmie Johnson
23. Marcos Ambrose
24. Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
25. Clint Bowyer
26. Austin Dillon
27. David Gilliland
28. Michael McDowell
29. Aric Almirola
30. Kasey Kahne
31. David Ragan
32. Cole Whitt
33. Josh Wise
34. Ryan Truex
35. Justin Allgaier
36. Alex Kennedy
37. Timmy Hill
38. Alex Bowman
39. David Mayhew
40. Reed Sorenson
41. Boris Said
42. Michael Annett
43. Tomy Drissi

Coyne transitioning from underdog to Indy 500 threat

Photo: IndyCar
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For most of the team’s existence, Dale Coyne Racing has been the Chicago Cubs of American Open Wheel Racing – a team whose history was more defined by failures, at times comically so, than success.

The last decade, however, has seen the tide completely change. In 2007, they scored three podium finishes with Bruno Junqueira. In 2009, they won at Watkins Glen with the late Justin Wilson.

The combination won again at Texas Motor Speedway in 2012, and finished sixth in the 2013 Verizon IndyCar Series championship. That same year, Mike Conway took a shock win for them in Race 1 at the Chevrolet Dual in Detroit.

Carlos Huertas scored an upset win for them in Race 1 at the Houston double-header in 2014, and while 2015 and 2016 yielded no wins, Tristan Vautier and Conor Daly gave them several strong runs – Vautier’s best finish was fourth in Race 2 at Detroit, while Daly finished second in Race 1 at Detroit, finished fourth at Watkins Glen, and scored a trio of sixth-place finishes at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course, Race 2 at Detroit, and the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.

And 2017 was set to possibly be the best year the team has ever had. Sebastien Bourdais gave the team a popular win in the season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, and then rookie Ed Jones scored back-to-back top tens – 10th and sixth – at St. Pete and the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach to start his career.

But, things started unraveling at the Indianapolis 500. Bourdais appeared set to be in the Fast Nine Pole Shootout during his first qualifying run – both of his first two laps were above 231 mph –  before his horrifying crash in Turn 2.

While Jones qualified an impressive 11th and finished an even more impressive third, results for the rest of the season became hard to come by – Jones only scored two more Top 10s, with a best result of seventh at Road America.

But, retooled for 2018, the Coyne team is a legitimate threat at the 102nd Running of the Indianapolis 500.

Bourdais, whose No. 18 Honda features new sponsorship from SealMaster and now ownership partners in Jimmy Vasser and James “Sulli” Sullivan, has a win already, again at St. Pete, and sits third in the championship.

And Bourdais may also be Honda’s best hope, given that he was the fastest Honda in qualifying – he’ll start fifth behind Ed Carpenter, Simon Pagenaud, Will Power, and Josef Newgarden.

“I think it speaks volumes about their work, their passion and their dedication to this program, Dale (Coyne), Jimmy (Vasser) and Sulli (James Sullivan) and everybody from top to bottom. I can’t thank them enough for the opportunity, for the support,” Bourdais said of the team’s effort.

Rookie Zachary Claman De Melo has been progressing nicely, and his Month of May has been very solid – he finished 12th at the INDYCAR Grand Prix on the IMS Road Course and qualified a strong 13th for the “500.”

“It’s been surreal to be here as rookie. I’m a bit at a loss for words,” Claman De Melo revealed after qualifying. “The fans, driving around this place, being with the team, everything is amazing. I have a great engineer, a great group of experienced mechanics at Dale Coyne Racing.”

While Conor Daly and Pippa Mann struggled in one-off entries, with Mann getting bumped out of the field in Saturday qualifying, Daly’s entry essentially puts three Coyne cars in the race – Daly’s No. 17 United States Air Force Honda is a Dale Coyne car that has been leased to Thom Burns Racing.

Rest assured, the days of Coyne being an “also ran” are long gone, and a Coyne car ending up in Victory Lane at the biggest race of the year would complete the Chicago Cubs analogy – the Cubs won a World Series title in 2016, and an Indy 500 triumph would be the crowning achievement in Coyne’s career.

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