By Amanda Vincent, NASCAR reporter
- Montoya on pole
- Hamlin second fastest
- Logano completes top three
Montoya claims Sprint Cup pole at Fontana
Last season, Juan Montoya lost the Auto Club Speedway NASCAR Sprint Cup Series pole to Earnhardt-Ganassi Racing teammate Jamie McMurray. On Friday, though, Montoya went out and put his No. 42 car on the pole for Sunday‘s Auto Club 400 with a speed of 184.653 mph, and McMurray, who went out several cars later, was unable to take that coveted front starting position away from his teammate. Instead, McMurray will start 12th on Sunday after putting down a lap with an average speed of 183.243 mph.
Regan Smith, who went out fairly early, sat on the provisional pole after turning a lap at 184.030 mph and held onto the spot for a while, as Mother Nature remained on his side through much of Friday’s qualifying session. Wind began to play havoc on backstretch speeds for several cars that went out after Smith, who came into the weekend with the highest-average qualifying speed of the season so far -- slightly below a sixth-place starting average.
Later in the qualifying session, as cars with faster practice speeds went out, drivers including David Ragan (183.692 mph) and Tony Stewart (183.988) came close to Smith’s then-fastest speed but fell just short. At the end of the session, Stewart was fifth and Ragan sixth. Smith did garner a spot slightly better than his average -- fourth.
“It was pretty Interesting coming to the green,” Ragan said of his qualifying run. “I thought I had spun our UPS car out. It was loose, and I took it a little easy through turn one and two. It did what I needed it to.”
There’s a lot of things that are better by qualifying good.
“Focusing on qualifying and things like that, I’ve really never worked so hard to work on just one lap before as much as I have this week,” Hamlin said. “I’m trying to get better (qualifying).”
Only 43 cars were presented to qualify for 43 starting positions, so all cars claimed starting spots for Sunday’s race, including the No. 46 car of J.J. Yeley that didn’t even make it out on the track for a lap. After suffering an engine issue in practice, the car was placed in the qualifying line, but never made it off pit road. But since the car was presented for qualifying, Yeley was awarded the 43rd and final starting position.
Of the go-or-go-home group of cars (even though none of them were actually required to go home prior to the race this weekend), Casey Mears was fastest with a lap of 181.855 mph, good enough for a 25th-place starting spot.