SONOMA, Calif. – As Jamie McMurray turned a corner on the season with a string of solid finishes, he picked Sonoma Raceway as an upcoming track he was looking forward to racing.
It seemed like a strange selection considering McMurray has just one top-10 finish at Sonoma in 10 career starts.
But he showed his comfort level on the 1.99-mile road course Saturday with a surprise pole-winning run. He topped Marcos Ambrose, a race favorite, with a lap at 94.986 mph.
“I felt like I’ve always raced really well here,” McMurray said of choosing Sonoma as a place he thought he could win this year.
“For me, the last restarts have really got me. When you have a restart at this track, guys go from top-five to 30th in about 20 seconds. It can be a track (where) if you have a caution at the end, you can lose a lot.”
It’s McMurray’s ninth career Sprint Cup pole, but first of the year. He also won the pole at Sonoma in 2007.
Ambrose wound up second with a lap at 94.924 in NASCAR’s first use of the group qualifying format. Both Ambrose and McMurray were together in the final group, and Ambrose initially had the pole position. But McMurray snatched it away, and Ambrose made a second attempt to grab it back but came up just short.
NASCAR had previously used group qualifying only in the Nationwide Series but tried it Saturday instead of traditional single-car runs. The drivers were split into eight groups of five or six cars based on practice speeds from Friday, and NASCAR sent them onto the track five seconds apart.
The drivers had five minutes to post a fast lap.
Carl Edwards qualified third and was followed by teammate Greg Biffle as Ford drivers took three of the first four spots.
NATIONWIDE: AJ Allmendinger slid past Justin Allgaier with seven laps to go, then defended his lead through a late restart and a pair of nerve-testing green-white-checkered overtime at Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wis.
Allgaier finished second, followed by Parker Kligerman, Owen Kelly and Sam Hornish Jr.
INDYCAR: Points leader Helio Castroneves won the final qualifying heat race to claim the pole for Sunday’s race at Iowa Speedway, but he’ll start 11th after switching out his engine.
Will Power was second, followed by James Hincliffe, Marco Andretti and Scott Dixon.
24 HOURS OF LE MANS: Danish driver Allan Simonsen died following a crash — the first driver fatality at the high-speed endurance event in France since 1997.
Race organizers said Simonsen, 34, was taken to a hospital but died soon after arrival. His Aston Martin No. 95 crashed about 10 minutes after the start of the race. The car spun at high speed and skidded into a barrier at a corner where speeds reach up to 105 mph.
BEECH RIDGE: Alan Tardiff of Lyman held off a challenge from Bobby Timmons III of Windham to win the 50-lap Pro Series feature.
Last week’s winner, Kelly Moore of Scarborough, finished third.
Sally Gheradi of Gorham won the Sport Series feature, Justin Karkos of Livermore Falls took the checkered flag in the Wildcat race, and Brandon Barker of Windham was victorious in Road Runners.