June 23, 2013

Auto Racing Notebook: McMurray edges Ambrose for unexpected Cup pole

From staff and news services

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.

AJ Allmendinger
click image to enlarge

AJ Allmendinger celebrates with crew members after winning the Nationwide Series race Saturday on the road course at Elkhart Lake, Wis.

The Associated Press

SUNDAY'S NASCAR SPRINT CUP RACE

WHAT: Toyota/Save Mart 350

WHEN: 3 p.m.

WHERE: Sonoma (Calif.) Raceway (road course, 1.99 miles)

DISTANCE: 218.9 miles, 110 laps

TELEVISION: TNT, 2 p.m.

LAST YEAR: Clint Bowyer raced to his first victory on a road course, and first with Michael Waltrip Racing, leading 70 laps.

LAST WEEK: Greg Biffle won at Michigan for the second straight time, holding off Kevin Harvick after points leader Jimmie Johnson smacked the wall in the final laps. The victory was Ford's 1,000th in Cup, Nationwide and Truck competition.

FAST FACTS: Johnson and Matt Kenseth are tied for the series victory lead with three. Harvick and Kyle Busch have each won twice. Jeff Gordon has a Cup-record nine road-course wins, five at Sonoma and four at Watkins Glen. Tony Stewart has seven road-course victories, two at Sonoma and five at Watkins Glen. Juan Pablo Montoya won the 2007 race for his first Cup victory. He also won in 2010 at Watkins Glen.

NEXT RACE: Quaker State 400, June 29, Kentucky Speedway, Sparta, Ky.

Driver standings

1. Jimmie Johnson 538

2. Carl Edwards 507

3. Clint Bowyer 489

4. Kevin Harvick 476

5. Matt Kenseth 456

6. Kyle Busch 452

7. Dale Earnhardt Jr. 447

8. Greg Biffle 443

9. Brad Keselowski 430

10. Tony Stewart 417

11. Paul Menard 415

12. Kasey Kahne 407

13. Martin Truex Jr. 405

14. Joey Logano 405

15. Aric Almirola 404

16. Jeff Gordon 398

17. Jeff Burton 390

18. Ryan Newman 389

19. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. 389

20. Kurt Busch 384

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.

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