Kurt Busch claimed pole position in qualifying on Friday evening, and will be joined on the front row for Sunday afternoon's Auto Club 400 by his Stewart-Haas Racing team mate Kevin Harvick.
Busch secured his pole spot with a run of 38.889s (185.142mph) on the two-mile Auto Club Speedway, while Harvick will start alongside him on the front row after narrowly missing the top spot by just two hundredths of a second in the final top 12 pole shoot-out round.
See full qualifying times from Auto Club Speedway
It's the fourth time in 22 starts that Busch will lead the field to the green flag at Fontana, a new pole record for the California venue. In total, this will be his 17th pole in 509 Cup starts.
"I just wanted to focus on the car and my lap and the line that I needed to run," said Busch, who is making only his second start of the season after having been sidelined for the races at Daytona, Atlanta and Las Vegas after being handed a racing suspension by NASCAR following allegations of domestic assault against the 2004 Cup champion by his former partner Patricia Driscoll.
"This is huge for Gene Haas," said Busch, dedicating the pole to the SHR team co-owner who hired him at the end of 2013 and stood by him through the recent controversy. "Thank you Gene for believing in me. This is my job: come to the track, drive the car and put it up on the pole and go for wins. That is what Gene has told me to do from the get go and I'm glad I have this chance to go back out there and live up to why he hired me.
"I felt confident with the cars ability to have that speed. You just don't have to over think it. Luckily I was able to pull that off and not over think it and deliver for me team," he added. ""It feels good, the guys were just spot on all day with all the adjustments. The car started off so fast and it is all due to the work back at the shop."
The front row sweep is confirmation of the impressive run of form being enjoyed by Stewart-Haas Racing far this season, which has seen Busch's team mate and reigning NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Kevin Harvick take back-to-back wins in the most recent two races of 2015 at Las Vegas and Phoenix.
"I want to congratulate Kurt and everybody on the #41 and everybody at SHR," said Harvick. "And everybody on our #4 team for everything that they do ... Hopefully, we can keep it up this week."
Such is the level of his recent success that only managing second place this weekend was clearly not quite up to his high hopes and standards: "I didn't get to run where I wanted to run there were three cars on the apron down there where I wanted to be that had finished their lap. I had to kind of abort going down the backstretch and ran through the middle of the track.
"All in all the guys did a great job and it is still a good starting spot for us," he added.
Lining up immediately behind the SHR pair is an all-Joe Gibbs Racing second row consisting of team mates Matt Kenseth and David Ragan. It's Ragan's best starting position since he moved into the teams' #18 car in place of Kyle Busch, who is recovering from leg and foot fractures sustained in a support race at Daytona last month.
Ganassi's Kyle Larson will take fifth place on the grid putting him alongside the third member of the JGR squad Denny Hamlin in sixth position.
"I'm proud of all my Target guys because we unloaded really bad I thought," said Larson. "We got our car driving pretty good there in qualifying. I was surprised because the first run, I had been practising on the bottom at both ends. I was too close to the guys that had shut down after finishing their laps so they were coasting around the bottom and I had to run the top in 1 and 2. It ended up working out for me, so I just stuck with it the rest of the rounds.
"I was 10th the second round and watched a little video of myself and figured out where I was losing time," he continued. "Made it better for the third round and got fifth. I'm pretty proud of that and like I said how our team made our car way better there for qualifying. We still have some work to do I'm sure for our race trim, but that is a great start to our weekend."
Jeff Gordon was the fastest of the Hendrick Motorsports squad and will get underway from seventh place with Penske's Brad Keselowski on the outside. Richard Childress Racing's Ryan Newman and Michael Waltrip Racing's Clint Bowyer make up the fifth row, while the top 12 was rounded out by Newman's team mate Paul Menard and by Furniture Row Racing's Martin Truex Jr.
"I think that qualifying has probably been our weakest part of the weekend so far this year," said Truex, who has claimed four top ten finishes in the first four races so far in 2015. "We need to work on that. We are still trying to figure it out.
"All-in-all I think that the guys did a good job throughout qualifying," he went on. "I was a little nervous after the first round. We were 20th, so to recover to 11th the second round, 12th the third round I thought that was okay. I screwed up a little bit in the third round there - I tried to move around a little bit and change my line and costs us some time. I felt like we probably should have been 10th or so. All in all you can win from 12th here and we will get to work tomorrow. I look forward to see what we have in race trim."
Just missing out on making it through to the final round of qualifying was Joey Logano, a rare qualifying failure for the second Penske car driven. He failed to make the cut by just 0.024s putting him in 13th place on he grid, lining up alongside Jimmie Johnson in the #48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet.
"It's just flying around a lot," admitted Logano. "I'd get free in and then get a sensation that it will turn and then the front tyres just wash out. We've got to figure out why it's doing that.
"We unloaded pretty bad today and we're just trying to figure out how we can get this thing closer," he noted. "We're making some small improvements and trying to understand what's making it do this. Once we can understand what makes it do it, then we can fix it."
"A little disappointed with 14th, but we will take it," said Johnson about his own run. "We had two decent laps we just needed a little bit more in the second round to advance. The conditions are a little bit different with the wind blowing down the front. I had a hard time in 1 and 2 getting the car to turn like I needed it to, [but] this track is so fun to race on and we know we are going to be good come Sunday afternoon in the race."
Carl Edwards - who hit the wall in the sole practice session earlier on Friday and forced to break out the backup car for qualifying - was the only JGR driver to miss out on the pole shoot-out and will start alongside Richard Petty Motorsport's Sam Hornish Jr. on row 8 just ahead of Dale Earnhardt Jr., AJ Allmendinger and Kasey Kahne.
SHR team co-owner Tony Stewart will start from 20th place as he seeks to rebound from the worst start to a race season in his Cup career, in marked contrast to his team mates Busch and Harvick. The fourth SHR driver Danica Patrick is one row back from Stewart in 22nd place on the grid.
Further back, Brett Moffitt will have to work his way forward from 30th place after hitting the wall in first round of qualifying. Moffitt was back in the #55 MWR car as a late replacement for Brian Vickers who was ruled out of competition earlier on Friday because of a recurrence of a blood clotting issue. Moffitt had been due to drive the #34 Front Row Motorsports car this weekend, and his place there has been taken by Xfinity Series regular Chris Buescher who will start from 33rd spot for his Sprint Cup race début this weekend.
"That's what we were hoping for is to go out there and lay down a pretty solid lap – nice and consistent with nothing crazy," said the 22-year-old from Texas. "We didn't hit anything today, so that's a plus!
"It was tough getting out of the Xfinity car with our #60 team and trying to figure out what I needed to adapt to to go out there and run a solid lap," he went on. "These guys at Front Row Motorsports have done a nice job. The car is driving really good. I fit down in the seat pretty decent, so we're making progress. We've got a decent spot for Sunday's race and now we just need to build on it and learn and see what we can do from there."
With 45 cars vying for a position on Sunday's starting grid, the two drivers to lose out were Travis Kvapil and Reed Sorenson. For the rest of the field, there will be two further practice sessions on Saturday ahead of the race itself on Sunday, for which the forecast is as perfect for motor racing as one would expect from the drought-hit sunshine state.
See full qualifying and Friday practice times from Auto Club Speedway.
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