Date: March 21, 2014
Event: Auto Club 400 Qualifying (Round 5 of 36)
Series: NASCAR Sprint Cup Series
Location: Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif. (2-mile oval)
Pole Winner: Matt Kenseth of Joe Gibbs Racing (38.438 seconds at 187.315 mph)
SHR Lineup: Kevin Harvick (4th, 38.523 seconds at 186.901 mph)
Tony Stewart (10th, 38.753 seconds at 185.792 mph)
Kurt Busch (17th, 38.884 seconds at 185.166 mph)
Danica Patrick (27th, 39.067 seconds at 184.299 mph)
Kevin Harvick, driver of the No. 4 Jimmy John’s Chevrolet SS, led the four-car Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) contingent Friday at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif., by setting the fourth-fastest lap in qualifying for Sunday’s Auto Club 400 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race. Harvick turned a lap of 38.523 seconds at 186.901 mph on the 2-mile oval.
“Just hitting a lap, time after time is the thing here, especially when you run high like that,” said Harvick, who won at Fontana in 2011. “I overdrove it around (Turn) 2 and under drove it around (Turn) 3, but giving up a tenth was a lot better than giving up four (tenths). All in all, we’re pretty happy with our Jimmy John’s Chevy. That’s the first time that we’ve made it to the final round of qualifying since this new knockout system was implemented.”
Qualifying consisted of three rounds. The first was 25 minutes, with every driver on the track vying to set the fastest lap. The 24 fastest drivers from the first round advanced to the second, 10-minute round. The fastest 12 drivers from that session advanced to the final, five-minute round of qualifying where they battled for the pole. Positions 1-12 were set by speeds in the final round. Positions 13-24 were set by speeds posted in the second round. The remaining 43-car field was set by speeds posted by those who did not advance past the first round.
Tony Stewart, driver of the No. 14 Rush Truck Centers/Mobil 1 Chevrolet SS for SHR, qualified 10th with a time of 38.753 seconds at 185.792 mph.
“I’m pretty happy with today’s efforts,” said Stewart, who is a two-time winner at Fontana (2010 and 2012). “We didn’t do any race trim stuff – it was just qualifying. I don’t think there are more than three days in my career where we went into Friday just working on qualifying trim. The effort paid off. We have a plan of what to do with our Rush Truck Centers/Mobil 1 Chevy going into practice tomorrow but just really happy with today and the hard work the guys put in.”
Kurt Busch, driver of the No. 41 Haas Automation Chevrolet SS, qualified 17th with a time of 38.884 seconds at 185.166 mph.
“The Haas Automation Chevrolet was pretty good today, but we didn’t get the qualifying run we wanted in the second round,” said Busch, who won at Fontana in 2003. “Our first round was good and I thought we had a shot in the second round, but we waited too long to make our run and that hurt us. We were too tight and didn’t have enough time to make a second run in the second round, so that knocked us out. We’ll get to work on race trim tomorrow and see what we can do to get better for Sunday.”
Danica Patrick, driver of the No. 10 GoDaddy/Get Found Chevrolet SS for SHR, qualified 27th with a time of 39.067 seconds at 184.299 mph.
“I feel like we should have made it in to the second group with our Go Daddy/Get Found Chevrolet, but I just didn’t get the lap we needed,” said Patrick, who will make her second Sprint Cup start at Fontana on Sunday. “I could have done better there and I’m just so frustrated. I ran the low line my first lap. The car was good coming to the green, but I just didn’t get a good run in turns one and two, and that really hurt us. The car was a lot tighter than it had been in practice and I didn’t have the grip that I needed. I tried the higher line on the second lap, but the car was still too tight and it took off on exit. We’re a lot better than where we were last time at California. We’ll just have to go from here and get the car ready to go race. I just hate that I didn’t transfer into the second round.”
Matt Kenseth won the pole in the final round of knockout qualifying with a lap of 38.438 seconds at 187.315 mph. It was his 12th career Sprint Cup pole, his first of the season and his first at Fontana.
Brad Keselowski will start on the outside of row one after clocking in at 38.481 seconds at 187.105 mph.
The 10 other drivers who made it to the final round of qualifying were Jimmie Johnson, Harvick, Clint Bowyer, Jeff Gordon, Joey Logano, Marcos Ambrose, Carl Edwards and Stewart. All are listed in the order they’ll start Sunday’s race.
Forty-three drivers attempted to qualify for the Auto Club 400. All made the race since there are 43 starting positions in a Sprint Cup field.