Sonoma Saturday: Wine Country Wrap

The Shake and Bake crew breaks down all of Saturday's happenings from Sonoma Raceway.

Ezra Shaw / Getty Images

BIG MAC — Jamie McMurray won the pole for Sunday’s Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Sonoma Raceway, lapping the 1.99-mile road course at an average speed of 94.986 miles per hour in his No. 1 Earnhardt Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates Chevrolet. The pole was McMurray’s ninth in 382 career Sprint Cup starts and his first since Martinsville Speedway in March 2011, 81 races ago.

“This is a really fun event,” said McMurray. “The race is really fun, it’s just that this place can get a little bit frustrating at the end of the race if they have a late-race restart. It’s always wild in Turn 4 and Turn 7. I have been on the good end of it and I’ve been on the bad end of it. Hopefully, we just put it all together tomorrow.”

Qualifying on the outside of Row 1 was Aussie Marcos Ambrose, who ran 94.924 mph in the No. 9 Richard Petty Motorsports Ford. Starting on Row 2 will be Roush Fenway Racing teammates Carl Edwards and Greg Biffle, with 2012 Sonoma winner Clint Bowyer and Matt Kenseth on Row 3.

“First of all, we’re thrilled to be on the front row,” said Ambrose. “Anytime you get on the front row you have to be proud of it.  We had a great Stanley Ford Fusion out there today.  It was really hooked up and was good enough to probably get the pole position, but congratulations to Jamie and everybody over there at Ganassi.  It was a really strong effort and you don’t get a pole position without deserving it, but in our case the motor quit running coming to the green flag so I lost all of my momentum coming to the green flag.”


NEW FORMAT RULES — Today’s qualifying session marked the first time in the 65-year history of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series that multiple drivers attempted to qualify at the same time. All told, the field qualified in eight groups – three groups of six cars each and five groups of five. The new format drew raves from the drivers.

“This is the way they should have done it for years,” said Dale Earnhardt Jr., who will start 26th. “It’s a lot easier to get everything done and get everything accomplished and it gives us a little bit more exciting session to watch. So, I’m all for it.”

“It’s fun. It’s a little less lonely out there with all your friends running at the same time,” added Carl Edwards, who qualified third. “It’s a different format that does give you options to run two laps.”

“I think it’s a good format,” said reigning Sprint Cup champion Brad Keselowski. “I think it’s better for the fans and better for the drivers.  It’s probably a win all the way around, so it’s good.”

SOMETHING SMELLS — Martin Truex Jr. had an unpleasant surprise during qualifying, as the wiring harness on his Michael Waltrip Racing Toyota caught fire. Still, Truex got in a lap of 94.016 mph, good enough for 14th place.

“I think it's not that big of a deal, it's not catastrophic as far as electrical for the engine or anything — which is a good thing,” said Truex.  “On the other hand, it did kind of mess my lap up.  I was hoping to have a much better lap than we did there.  We'll just see what's going on with it, we'll fix it up for tomorrow and we'll have to go racing tomorrow from 14th.”

RINGERS ROPED — None of the eight road-course specialists brought in to race at Sonoma fared especially well in qualifying. Tops among them was former Formula One champion and Indianapolis 500 winner Jacques Villeneuve, who qualified 22nd.

“It just wasn’t quick enough,” said Villeneuve, who is driving for James Finch this weekend. “It was a lot better than yesterday. We improved the car overnight and I was discovering it and I just didn’t drive aggressive enough on the first lap so there was still a little bit of time, but at least my car was a lot better today.”

BREAKING BARRIERS — Victor Gonzales Jr. had a rough qualifying session, crashing Tommy Baldwin’s car during the session. Nevertheless, Gonzales will start 42nd on Sunday and when he takes the green flag, he will be the first Puerto Rican to ever compete in a NASCAR Sprint Cup race.

Likewise, 40th qualifier Paulie Harraka will be the first graduate of NASCAR’s Drive for Diversity program to start a Cup race.

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