AJ Allmendinger, developing as the top driver on NASCAR road courses, has won pole position for on Sunday’s race at winding Sonoma Raceway.
Allmendinger earned the top starting spot during Saturday’s knockout qualifying. It’s the first pole for JTG Daugherty Racing, which earned its first berth in NASCAR’s championship race last year when Allmendinger won on the Watkins Glen road course.
That puts the pressure on Allmendinger, who knows the races at Sonoma and in August at Watkins Glen are likely his best chances to earn a spot in the 16-driver Chase for the Sprint Cup championship field.
The native of Las Gatos, a little over an hour away from the Sonoma track, wasn’t sure how he’d feel heading into Sunday’s race.
“I haven’t grown up very well on not putting a lot of pressure on myself,” Allmendinger said. “We knew that if we go do our job and if I do my job (on Sunday), and we have solid pit stops and we just take care of business, at the end, we should give ourselves a chance. That’s all we can ask for.”
Kurt Busch will start second after his qualifying lap was interrupted when younger brother Kyle spun in turn 10 to bring out a red flag with 7:03 left in the final 10-minute session. The spin also interrupted the lap for Kyle Larson, who was fastest on the day in the first round of qualifying.
Matt Kenseth qualified third and was surprised with the result after a long day of practice on Friday. Kenseth has just six career top-10 finishes in 30 starts on NASCAR road courses.
“Yeah, we kind of over-achieved,” Kenseth said about qualifying.
Kenseth was followed by Larson and five-time Sonoma winner Jeff Gordon on his home track. Clint Bowyer, Tony Stewart, Casey Mears, David Ragan and Brad Keselowski rounded out the top 10.