It was unknown territory for everyone - just how would the new elimination format for qualifying translate to road course events. Finally this weekend at Sonoma Raceway, we found out - and Jamie McMurray came up with the goods as he secured pole position for Sunday's Toyota/Save Mart 350 for the second year in succession.
It's McMurray's tenth pole in 418 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races, and his third in 12 races at Sonoma. His lap of 74.354s (96.350mph), a new track record well ahead of the previous benchmark of 95.262mph set by Marcos Ambrose two years ago.
"Really good lap. I'm excited. It is cool. This is my third road course pole. That is pretty awesome," said the 38-year-old, who also won pole here in 2013. "I was really shocked that we could run fast on our third run. We made a change, but I'm not sure where that speed came front. That was a really good lap.
"The biggest thing here is to get off of 11 and seven with a drive," he added. "I really could never get wide open in any gear – first, second or third – off of those corners. We kind of had all the rest of it down."
McMurray pipped AJ Allmendinger to the top spot by just over two tenths of a second, with the Californian happy to be starting on the front row for his home race this weekend.
"Yes, Jamie put up a heck of a lap there.," said Allmendinger. "Two-tenths. Makes me feel a little bit better that he didn't beat me by two-thousandths, because two-tenths is tough to find.
"I think we have a good race car," he added. "Honestly, I was nervous about qualifying because we were that good in trim yesterday. So to be on the front row, it sure could be worse. We will go racing tomorrow."
Cup rookie Kyle Larson will line up in third place for the green flag alongside the experienced Carl Edwards, who only just managed to make it into the top 12 shootout at the last minute.
"This is about the guy who makes the least mistakes and I made a couple too many at the beginning and then fortunately got a really good lap to get into the second round and then our lap was good," explained Edwards. "There are things I could do better, but I wouldn't trade it because that was the fastest lap we ran. It was fun!"
Stewart-Haas Racing team mates Kurt Busch and Kevin Harvick locked out the third row of the grid, with Busch explaining it had all been done to advance preparation.
"We prepared well for this race with a couple of test sessions and executed a good practice run yesterday," he said. "The lap time we ran put us P1 in the first practice. We knew we needed to gain a little more and today we got beat by a couple of guys that laid down really good laps.
"For us it was a better than average lap," he added. "That gets us fifth and the way the team is bolted together this qualifying set-up I think that gives us a good pattern for what we have to put under it for a race set-up."
"That was a good lap for us," contributed Harvick. "Road course qualifying kind of stresses me out because there are so many opportunities to make a mistake. Our first goal was to get through the first round with a solid lap and we were able to do that. Second round was good for us too, always want to do better, but we can see the front so that is a good thing on a road course."
Also making it through to the top 12 shootout were Ryan Newman, Brian Vickers, Paul Menard, Joey Logano, Danica Patrick and Casey Mears. Just on the wrong side of the cut-off after round 1 were Brad Keselowski and Matt Kenseth, with Jeff Gordon, Denny Hamlin and Dale Earnhardt also failing to make it through. Kyle Busch will start from 20th just ahead of Tony Stewart, while Jimmie Johnson slumped to 22nd - his worst start at Sears Point since 2007. Marcos Ambrose, who has never started worse than eighth at Sonoma, only managed to qualify in 23rd.
"Sixth hundredths from a second from making it is disappointing," said Gordon. "But I think the bigger disappointment for us is how many guys went out and were so much faster the second time out and we didn't. That is a bit of a concern.
"Obviously we will talk to our teammates, and see what they were dealing with as well," Gordon continued. "Very disappointed to not have any Hendrick cars in the top-12, so something we are going to have to work on. But I feel really good about the race. Our car has been really fast. We didn't show a lot of speed in qualifying trim yesterday, and we didn't show it again today. But, I feel good about the race."
With 43 cars entered for this weekend's Cup event, all drivers made the field and will take the green flag on Sunday afternoon.
Full qualifying and practice results from Sonoma