SONOMA, Calif. (AP) — Not even a change in the course layout could halt Kyle Larson’s qualifying dominance on his home track.
Larson won the NASCAR Cup Series pole at Sonoma Raceway for the third consecutive year on Saturday, easily navigating the return of the Carousel turn to the wine country course.
Larson reached an average lap speed of 95.712 mph in his Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet to earn his first pole of the season. William Byron was second for Hendrick Motorsports, barely behind Larson at 95.669 mph, making an all-Chevy front row Sunday.
“In the Carousel, I think I gave up a little speed, but I feel like I made up some time in other areas, too,” Larson said. “It’s cool to get a third pole at my home track.”
Larson sees a simple reason for his excellence in qualifying, and it isn’t his familiarity with Sonoma: “I think our cars are just quick for short-run stuff. It just fits my style a little bit. You can be really aggressive for a lap.”
Larson was fastest in practice Friday, and he set the track qualifying record in the opening round. He kept it up to win his eighth career pole, excelling again at Sonoma despite the addition of the Carousel turn, which hasn’t featured in a NASCAR race at Sonoma since 1997 — when Larson was 4 years old.
The Sacramento-area native won the pole at Sonoma in each of the past two seasons, yet has never finished better than 12th in five previous drives on the twisting road course. Larson tied the pole record of Ricky Rudd, who won it three straight times at Sonoma from 1990-92.
“I guess the trend with my three poles is winning a pole and then struggling in the race,” he said. “Hopefully we’ll have something different for tomorrow.”
Larson could use the boost, too: Although he won the All-Star Race in Concord last month, he hasn’t won a race that was worth points since September 2017 — not even with eight top-10 starts this season.
Joey Logano was third, with Chase Elliott and Daniel Suarez rounding out the top five.
Six of the top 12 qualifiers are in Chevys, albeit just three of the top nine. Hendrick got all four of its drivers into the final round, with Jimmie Johnson qualifying 11th and Alex Bowman in 12th.
Kevin Harvick, who finished second at Sonoma last year, qualified in 23rd. Brad Keselowski was 22nd, and Kurt Busch came in 16th.
WHAT TO EXPECT
Kyle Busch qualified in seventh and defending champion Martin Truex Jr. was eighth, doing little to discourage the belief they’ll be in contention for the win Sunday. Busch has won twice at Sonoma, and has won four races this season.
Ganassi has won five of the last seven poles at Sonoma. Logano has started in the top five in 12 of 16 races this season.
IN THE GARAGE
The drivers seemed unbothered by the Carousel layout, showing they’ve already figured out good strategies for dealing with the additional turns. That could all change under actual racing conditions, according to Larson and others. Larson doesn’t think the Carousel will cause much trouble for anyone, and he also doesn’t think it will facilitate more passing.
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