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Those who were surprised that Jamie McMurray won the Coors Light pole for Sunday’s Toyota Save Mart 350 at Sonoma Raceway should not be, new sponsor Cessna needed some PR.
With a lap at 94.986 mph (75.422 seconds) in Saturday’s time trials, McMurray edged pre-qualifying favorite Marcos Ambrose (94.924 mph) for the top spot in the first group-based qualifying format ever used in NASCAR’s Sprint Cup Series.
Both McMurray and Ambrose qualified in the eighth and final five-car group, with Ambrose posting his lap first and McMurray topping him shortly thereafter. The Coors Light pole award was McMurray’s first of the season, his second at Sonoma and the ninth of his career.
The pole not only underscored McMurray’s road-course credentials but also highlighted the improved performance of the entire Earnhardt Ganassi Racing organization.
“I remember sitting in here a year ago with (teammate) Juan (Pablo Montoya) when we made the announcement that we were going to run the Indy Grand-Am race, and we talked about everything that was going on with making our cars better.
“They’ve just done an amazing job. Juan and I were talking about it (Friday) between practices. The cars don’t necessarily feel better on the track, but the times are better in relation to everybody. Coming out here I was really confident, because every track we’ve been to we’ve had really good speed and we’ve run really well. We haven’t necessarily been able to get the finishes in the last 10 percent of the race, but it hasn’t really been anything that we’ve done wrong.
So I feel really good about our cars and just about any track we go to now."
Carl Edwards (94.779 mph) qualified third from group No. 5, followed by Greg Biffle (94.772 mph) and defending race winner Clint Bowyer (94.737 mph). Series leader Jimmie Johnson will start 19th, Dale Earnhardt Jr. 26th and Danica Patrick 31st.
Ambrose, who set the track record of 95.262 mph last year, said his car lost power coming to the green flag to start his first qualifying lap.
“In our case, the motor quit running coming to the green flag, so I lost all my momentum coming to the green flag," Ambrose said. “I thought about bailing out of that lap and trying to roll around for a second lap, but I wasn’t sure about engine temperatures and the tires … but I just went for it.
“I pretty much lost my mind there. I was really mad … but it was good enough to get the front row, and I’m proud of that, but I’m disappointed, obviously, that we didn’t get the pole."
The new group-based qualifying format produced on-track issues almost immediately. Roughly two minutes into the session for group No. 1, Victor Gonzalez Jr. went off course in Turn 10 while running behind David Stremme, who was slow out of the gate to start the session.
Gonzalez slammed into the tire barrier, ripping the left front fender off his No. 36 Chevrolet. The accident stopped the clock on the session, which featured a five-minute allotment for each group. Qualifying resumed after track clean-up.
JAMIE MCMURRAY, NO. 1 CESSNA CHEVROLET SS – POLE WINNER
TALK A LITTLE BIT ABOUT THE NEW QUALIFYING FORMAT AND YOUR THOUGHTS OUT THERE ON HOW TODAY WENT:
“I thought the qualifying format was really good. Sonoma has always been a place that you would go down the drag strip and then come out half way down the backstretch. Whatever they put on the drag strip everybody would always talk about it. It seemed like it made the tires greasy for the first couple of corners. I thought it was good that we got to pull out just like we do in practice. You gap yourself with the guys in front of you, take it pretty easy and it was very similar to practice which I thought was good. Sitting down there as a fan listening to the commentator getting to have five cars on the track, six cars on the track, I thought it was good. It made it a little more interesting. It wasn’t just one guy and the guy trying to commentate about one person on the track. I thought it was good. It was cool how people would bump each other off. It was a good format."
BACK AT RICHMOND YOU MENTIONED THIS TRACK IS ONE OF THE ONES THAT YOU WERE REALLY LOOKING FORWARD TO IN TALKING ABOUT HOW THE SEASON HAS BEEN IMPROVING. BY STATS ON I THINK YOUR FINISHING AVERAGE IS 17.1, BUT YOU DID FINISH SECOND ONCE. WHY WERE YOU LOOKING FORWARD TO COMING HERE?
“Well, this has always been performance wise a really good track for me in qualifying. I’ve qualified well here a lot. I feel like I’ve raced really well here. For me the last restarts have always got me. Whether it is someone dive bombing you in turn seven and wiping you out. I’ve made a mistake on the last lap here and lost a lot of spots. When they have a restart at this track guys go from the top-five to 30th in a matter of about 20 seconds. It can be a track that if they have a caution at the end you can lose a lot. I just have always looked forward to Sonoma. It’s one of the funnier tracks that we come to. I don’t know that the road racers like this as much as they do Watkins Glen. I really enjoy coming here."
TALK ABOUT THE GEN-6 CAR AND THE FIRST TIME AT THIS TRACK, WHAT ARE YOU FEELING ARE THE DIFFERENCES ARE, WHAT IS BETTER, WHAT IS NOT?
“I expected the times to be quite a bit quicker coming here. The tire that we are on this year when we did our testing this tire was a fait bit faster than the tire we ran last year. This car is quite a bit quicker than the car from last year. It feels better here. The slow corners aren’t much different, but the faster high speed esses. The car has a lot more grip, feels a lot more balanced. I don’t know why the times aren’t any quicker. Overall I think if we didn’t do lap times everyone would tell you that we are going quite a bit quicker. Just the track must be worn out quite a bit more than last year. The car is really good. When we did our testing at VIR (Virginia International Raceway) we ran significantly faster than we did with last year’s car testing. The car is really good. The car has been good at every track we have been to so far."
WHAT WEAR DO YOU THINK ARE ON THE TIRES WITH THIS CAR AND HOW DO YOU THINK THE STRATEGY IS GOING TO BE FOR NUMBER OF PIT STOPS?
“I remember sitting on the pole here last time and not sleeping the whole night worried about pit strategy and what we were going to do. I got to turn one and I ran off the track and I came out about 35th or 40th and it didn’t matter. Honestly, my answer to you would be that I don’t know and I’m not going to worry about it. I’m going to let everyone else worry about it and I’m just going to do what they tell me."
CARL (EDWARDS) TALKED ABOUT MISSING A FEW POINTS DURING HIS LAP. MARCOS (AMBROSE) CAME IN AND SAID HIS ENGINE STALLED. WAS THAT LAP THE BEST YOU COULD HAVE POSSIBLY DONE?
“No, when you go to oval tracks there are a lot of times you come in and you say ‘that is just it that is all I had.’ Here every corner there is a little bit that you can improve. When I sat on the pole here in 2009 I think, 2010, I remember when the lap was over thinking ‘I didn’t drive hard enough. I should have driven harder.’ It ended up being the pole. So when my lap started today as I was waiting on the No. 56, had an oil leak or something. As that car was sitting there, you run through, especially at a road course for me, I run through the lap and my shifting points and what I needed to do. It’s a little bit harder this year because we didn’t just end practice and then get to do qualifying. You haven’t been in the car until your lap starts. I was like I remember that and I’m just going to go out and take whatever this car will give me. I’m not going to push it to the very edge, because the trying to gain the every little bit can cost you a half second if you drop a tire off or if you get loose. I drove at about 95 percent and I just kept it on the track. I just had it all put together."
EIGHT WINNERS THE LAST EIGHT YEARS OUT HERE, DOES THAT INSPIRE YOU AT ALL? ARE YOU THINKING MAYBE THIS COULD BE YOUR YEAR?
“Yeah, when you look at this race it seems like every year out here somebody wins that you didn’t feel like was a good road racer. All of a sudden you are like that guy is a good road racer because he has won. This track has produced a lot of guys that I think historically haven’t run well on road courses. Tomorrow it will be about the No. 9 and No. 42. I think the No. 15 was really good in practice, but the race is long enough and there is usually a little bit of drama at this track. It’s really about kind of being in position and if it is your day it will work out. If it’s not, there is not a lot you can do about it. Yeah, I feel really good about our car for tomorrow. I think our pace was a fourth to eighth place car. I think that is all you really have to have in order to put yourself in a position to win."
DO YOU CONSIDER YOURSELF UNDER RATED AS A ROAD RACER? WHAT DOES THIS SAY ABOUT THE PROGRESS THAT EARNHARDT GANASSI RACING IS MAKING THIS YEAR?
“Yeah, I don’t consider anything with my ability versus someone else’s. It just is what it is. Certainly that is just someone’s opinion. What I will tell you about our race team is I remember sitting in here a year ago with Juan (Pablo Montoya) when we made the announcement we were going to run the Indy GRAND-AM race. We talked about everything that was going on with making our cars better. They have just done an amazing job. Juan and I were talking about it yesterday between practices about the cars don’t necessarily feel better on the track, but the times are better in relation to everybody. Coming out here I was really confident because every track we have been to we have had really good speed and we have run really well. We haven’t been able to necessarily get the finishes in the last 10 percent of the race, but it hasn’t really been anything that we have done wrong. Feel really good about our cars and really just about any track that we go to now."
LAST TIME YOU WERE ON THE POLE YOU FINISHED 37TH. WHAT DO YOU WANT TO DO TO AVOID A SIMILAR FATE THIS TIME?
“The last time I was on the pole I remember not only worrying about pit strategy, but staying up all night wanting to lead the first lap. I think Robby Gordon was second. Robby would be really aggressive on the start. I believe I ran off in the first corner and came off the first corner in last. Then when I got to turn seven they had a wreck and I ripped the fenders off my car. You know what I’m not worried about it. It’s just about getting through that last pit stop hoping that your fuel mileage is good enough. This is a fuel mileage race always. I’m not really thinking back to the last time we were on the pole. It’s really just about the last few races and kind of the way it’s played out."
DO YOU STILL FEEL LIKE THE ORGANIZATION IS MAKING FORWARD PROGRESS AS WE GET DEEPER AND DEEPER INTO THE SEASON?
“Yeah, absolutely, when we went to Richmond and I think that is what you are referring to the conversations we had there. We were running 10th with two laps to go and felt really good about that because that historically hasn’t been a good track for us. A top 10 would have been great. Cautions came out because of where I was pitted we elected to stay out on the race track which ended up being a horrible decision. We went from 10th with a couple of laps to go to being second on the green-white-checkered to finishing 25th. Charlotte we were running 10th and had a radiator break and it ripped a hole in the oil line which is I don’t know 40 laps to go. I think we ended up finishing 18th out of that, just because of the other cars that had broken. At Dover we were running in the top-10 had something fall off another car go through the radiator. Last week we were running I don’t know eighth or ninth and blew a right-front tire with a few laps to go. So since Richmond I’ve run better than I did before Richmond, I just haven’t finished. I told my wife after Dover. We got on the airplane to come home I said ‘Christy, I don’t believe in luck, I believe you make your own luck, but when something falls off someone else’s car and it goes through your radiator, that is bad luck’. When you blow a right-front tire and you don’t feel like you did anything wrong that is just bad luck. I feel like we have been really unlucky, but our cars have been really good. I tell you that because the morale on our team, not just the No. 1 team, but the No. 42 team, everybody is very excited about what we have going on right now. We feel like performance wise we are really good. I think we are better than we were in 2010 when we were able to win all the races. If we are able to put it all together we will win more races this year."
“We are definitely better than what we were at Richmond. The thing that is so good about us this year is that we have been good on superspeedways, we’ve been good on short-tracks, we’ve been good at road courses, and we’ve been good at every kind of race track that we have been to. Slick tracks, tracks with a lot of grip. That is what we didn’t have in 2010 was we were good at certain tracks. We performed extremely well at those, but I think it was the short tracks in 2010 we were terrible at them. So this year it just all around our performance has been better."
WITH THIS DIFFERENT QUALIFYING FORMAT DID YOU SEE THE CAR IN FRONT OF YOU OR THE CAR BEHIND YOU AT ALL?
“I was fairly fortunate because I was the last car to go out in my group and when I left the pits I asked them where Marcos (Ambrose) was he was the first car. They said he was just now in turn seven. So, I rode around, I don’t know, 20 seconds off the pace just take it easy. When I got to turn seven they said Marcos was just now to the start/finish line, so no I never saw a car the whole time. I think the qualifying format was a huge success. I don’t know about the perspective on TV, but from the drivers perspective that was a huge success."
|5||Clint Bowyer||15||Toyota||5-Hour Energy||94.737||75.620||-0.198|
|6||Matt Kenseth||20||Toyota||The Home Depot / Husky||94.623||75.711||-0.289|
|7||Kurt Busch||78||Chevrolet||Furniture Row / Sealy||94.574||75.750||-0.328|
|10||Jeff Gordon||24||Chevrolet||Drive To End Hunger||94.334||75.943||-0.521|
|11||Tony Stewart||14||Chevrolet||Mobil 1 / Bass Pro Shops||94.251||76.010||-0.588|
|13||Juan Pablo Montoya||42||Chevrolet||Target||94.215||76.039||-0.617|
|14||Martin Truex Jr||56||Toyota||NAPA Auto Parts||94.016||76.200||-0.778|
|15||Kasey Kahne||5||Chevrolet||Farmers Insurance||93.768||76.401||-0.979|
|16||Paul Menard||27||Chevrolet||Menards / Moen||93.691||76.464||-1.042|
|17||Denny Hamlin||11||Toyota||FedEx Freight||93.690||76.465||-1.043|
|18||Brad Keselowski||2||Ford||Miller Lite||93.684||76.470||-1.048|
|22||Jacques Villeneuve||51||Chevrolet||TAG Heuer Avant-Garde Eyewear||93.554||76.576||-1.154|
|23||David Ragan||34||Ford||Taco Bell||93.535||76.592||-1.170|
|25||Ron Fellows||33||Chevrolet||Canadian Tire||93.464||76.650||-1.228|
|26||Dale Earnhardt Jr||88||Chevrolet||National Guard||93.420||76.686||-1.264|
|27||Jeff Burton||31||Chevrolet||Utility Trailers||93.301||76.784||-1.362|
|28||David Stremme||30||Toyota||Lean 1 / Raley's / Swan Energy||93.258||76.819||-1.397|
|29||David Gilliland||38||Ford||Long John Silver's||93.246||76.829||-1.407|
|30||Ryan Newman||39||Chevrolet||Haas Automation 30th Anniversary||93.187||76.878||-1.456|
|33||Travis Kvapil||93||Toyota||Burger King / Dr. Pepper||92.835||77.169||-1.747|
|35||Josh Wise||35||Ford||MDS Transport||92.750||77.240||-1.818|
|37||Ricky Stenhouse Jr||17||Ford||Ford EcoBoost||92.504||77.445||-2.023|
|38||David Reutimann||83||Toyota||Burger King / Dr. Pepper||92.331||77.590||-2.168|
|40||Paulie Harraka||52||Ford||Hasa Pool Products||91.416||78.367||-2.945|
|42||Victor Gonzalez Jr||36||Chevrolet||IMCA Dominican Republic||–||–||–|