California native Kyle Larson stormed to the Coors Light Pole Award in Friday qualifying for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series at Auto Club Speedway.
Larson notched a best lap of 187.047 mph with the Chip Ganassi Racing No. 42 Chevrolet around the 2-mile track. He’ll lead the 39-car field to the green flag in Sunday’s Auto Club 400 (3:30 p.m. ET, FOX, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio), the series’ fifth race of the season and the closing event in the three-race NASCAR Goes West swing.
“Really happy though, our Target team has been amazing to start the season and to get a pole is great,” the series points leader said following qualifying. “I haven’t gotten a pole since my rookie season. Yeah, this is awesome.
“I can’t say enough about everybody at our race shop for all the hard work they have been putting in.”
The Coors Light Pole is Larson’s first of the season, first at the home-state speedway and second of his Monster Energy Cup Series career. His other pole came at Pocono Raceway during his rookie season in 2014.
Denny Hamlin’s Joe Gibbs Racing No. 11 Toyota will flank Larson’s car on the front row after grabbing the second starting position with a lap of 186.979 mph in the last of three qualifying sessions. Hamlin had the provisional pole until Larson knocked him off, leading the JGR driver to playfully fling water at Larson’s car as it came back to pit road.
Brad Keselowski, Martin Truex Jr. and last week’s winner, Ryan Newman, completed the top five in Friday’s qualifying.
Larson’s pole run capped an eventful qualifying session, with five cars failing to make qualifying attempts for different reasons.
Jimmie Johnson, a six-time Auto Club winner, crashed his primary No. 48 Chevrolet near the end of opening practice. With no laps on an untested reserve car, the Hendrick Motorsports team opted to skip the session.
Joey Logano, Trevor Bayne, Gray Gaulding and Matt DiBenedetto failed to log speeds in the opening 20-minute round after their cars did not make it to the grid through pre-qualifying inspection.
“It happens. We’re a team, right?” Logano said after missing out on the first round. “Obviously, everyone’s trying to push it and get every ounce of speed out of our cars when we can. I don’t even know why we didn’t make it through on time. … No big deal.”
Keselowski and Paul Menard both drove away after scrapes with the Turn 2 wall during the second of three rounds.
Two more practice sessions are scheduled Saturday for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series.
Auto Club 400 Starting Lineup:
Row 1: Kyle Larson, Denny Hamlin
Row 2: Brad Keselowski, Martin Truex Jr.
Row 3: Ryan Newman, Matt Kenseth
Row 4: Kevin Harvick, Jamie McMurray
Row 5: Kyle Busch, Daniel Suarez R
Row 6: Austin Dillon, Kasey Kahne
Row 7: Chase Elliott, Erik Jones R
Row 8: Kurt Busch, Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
Row 9: Clint Bowyer, Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Row 10: Ryan Blaney, Chris Buescher
Row 11: Ty Dillon R, Danica Patrick
Row 12: Paul Menard, AJ Allmendinger
Row 13: Michael McDowell, Landon Cassill
Row 14: David Ragan, Cole Whitt
Row 15: Reed Sorenson, Corey LaJoie
Row 16: Aric Almirola, Jeffrey Earnhardt
Row 17: Derrike Cope, Timmy Hill
Row 18: Joey Logano, Trevor Bayne
Row 19: Jimmie Jonson, Matt DiBenedetto
Row 20: Gray Gaulding R