AJ Allmendinger successfully claimed his first pole position for JTG Daugherty Racing by topping qualifying for Sunday's Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Sonoma Raceway in California.
CLICK: Full qualifying times from Sonoma Raceway.
Allmendinger - who was born and raised in in the west coast state - was last on pole at Kansas in April 2012 when he was competing for Penske Racing. His only other time on pole was at Phoenix International Raceway two years previously, meaning that Sonoma marks his first road course pole in this 243-race NASCAR Sprint Cup Series career.
"We knew that if we go do our job and if I do my job tomorrow, and we have solid pit stops, and we just take care of business, at the end we should give ourselves a chance," said the 33-year-old. "That's all we can ask for. It's a solid start, but the prize is tomorrow.
Allmendinger did claim a front row position for last year's race alongside Jamie McMurray in a race that was eventually won by Carl Edwards. This year Allmendinger set a best lap time of 74.385s (96.310mph) in the final round of qualifying on the two-mile, 11-turn permanent road course that succeeded in seeing him go one better than his starting position in 2014 despite having his first round lap aborted because of a red flag for HScott Motorsports' Michael Annett stopping on track, and his pole shoot-out flying lap attempt interrupted by a caution for Kyle Busch spinning in the Joe Gibbs Racing #18.
"We had that first caution on my first lap, and it's just one of those things. You've got to re-set your mind," he said. "But the Kingsford Chevy has been good these first two days. I've really got to thank all my guys that are here and especially back at the shop. They've worked on this car so much to do everything that we need to get as much speed out of it as possible. So, it's a good day, but we've got to focus on tomorrow."
Allmendinger was 0.166s faster than Stewart Haas-Racing's Kurt Busch, who will join Allmendinger on the front row for the start of tomorrow's race just after noon local time (8pm BST).
"It has a nice balance all the way through, the braking and transmission gears, and the overall corner speed," said Busch, crediting his crew chief and the team for laying the ground work for a successful session. "It's a nice package that Tony Gibson gave me, and all the guys back at the shop. Thanks to them for building this special car for a road course race.
"There was a little apprehension coming in because we didn't have testing sessions or any kind of shakedown sessions," he added. "So to be outside pole with the Haas Automation Chevy, that's awesome, that's what we wanted. And now we've got all kinds of strategy plays to figure out now to get into race mode. So, we did our job. We're on the front row."
JGR's Matt Kenseth will start on the second row alongside Chip Ganassi Racing's Kyle Larson. Jeff Gordon - who has five wins at Sonoma, but the most recent of which was back in 2006 - will take the green flag in fifth place lining up next to Michael Waltrip Racing's Clint Bowyer who had been the fastest man on Friday in the two practice sessions.
“After the first run we were third and I certainly got encouraged that I could make a few adjustments and hit my marks," said Gordon, whose is making his final start at Sonoma before he retires from NASCAR at the end of the current season. "I think the car was capable of being at least first or second.
"I missed one corner there on that last run and I don't know how much that cost me, but overall it was a really solid effort," he added.
SHR owner-driver Tony Stewart needed a Herculean last-minute effort in the first elimination round to make it into the pole shoot-out, ousting Gordon's Hendrick Motorsport team mate Jimmie Johnson in the process. Stewart then managed to put in the seventh best time of the final round to put him on the fourth row alongside Germain Racing's Casey Mears.
"It was good [but] it wasn't as good as our second run was," said Stewart of his final qualifying effort. "I was really happy with our second run. I just over drove a couple of the corners trying to make up time to try to make a pole run out of it. Compared to where we were yesterday I was really happy with where we ended up today
"It was good," echoed Mears of his own last run. "The guys did a really good job preparing the car and making sure we could get everything out of it. They improved on it from yesterday. A lot of the stuff they did to prepare for qualifying and it was good.
"We went out there the very first time out and the tyres didn't seemed like they wanted to come in very well when they were new," he elaborated. "I think whatever series was on the track before us it just had a little rubber that didn't agree with the rubber on the track. It was a little bit slick first getting going, but then after that the car had some speed. That last run we were just a little too loose and I got a little bit a wheel hop into 11 and I think that would have put us pretty close to it if we could have pulled that off. I'm looking forward to Sunday."
Front Row Motorsports' David Ragan will start from ninth position next to Penske's Brad Keselowski, while Kyle Busch recovered from his early spin to set the 11th fastest time to join Furniture Row Racing's Martin Truex Jr. on row six.
"It was great teamwork and great strategy for the team today to really make the most of our day," said Keselowski. "We didn't have the speed we wanted, but we overcame that with just great execution by the team. I'm very proud of that. We've got to find some speed for tomorrow to have a shot at winning and we know that, so we'll keep working on it."
After being bumped out of the top 12 by Stewart's late first round effort, a frustrated Jimmie Johnson will have to start from 13th place alongside last year's race winner Carl Edwards.
"Really bummed the first lap we had a braking issue and had to go back out for a second run and just about got in on old tyres," Johnson said. "Disappointed that we didn't get in on that first lap, didn't get in in general, but I know we've got a good car. We will go racing tomorrow and see what we get."
Row eight will be taken by JGR's Denny Hamlin and Richard Childress Racing's Ryan Newman, with reigning Sprint Cup champion Kevin Harvick having to settle for 17th place alongside last year's pole sitter Jamie McMurray.
"What section didn't I screw up?" sighed Harvick afterwards. "This has just been something I've never been very good at as far as the qualifying thing here at Sonoma. Our Budweiser/Outback/Folds of Honor Chevy is handing good and doing all the good things that you want it to, and it's really good in qualifying trim, but I was just too easy in 2, 3, and 4; and okay down the hill and then got up the race track both laps in 11.
"That cost us three or four tenths both times. We have a good car. I've got some cars to pass. We passed a lot of cars last year, but I'm just not very good at the qualifying thing here, for whatever reason."
Joey Logano (Penske) will start from 19th alongside Dale Earnhardt Jr., who spent the rare week-off last weekend holidaying in Germany where he proposed to his girlfriend Amy Reimann.
"I think the car is going to be good," said Earnhardt, getting back to business again this weekend. "We just didn't get to go out and run a second run, there in Qualifying. Everybody picked-up. They did the same thing last year. I feel like we had a good enough shot to get into the top 12, but coming out of turn 11 to the green on our second run, the car got stuck in second gear and the transmission won't shift, so we'll change the transmission.
But I'm real happy with the car," added the Hendrick driver. "We worked on it hard yesterday. We weren't good when we got here but we made changes and it's going to be a fun car tomorrow."
Danica Patrick (SHR) will get underway from 21st with Sam Hornish Jr. set to take the green flag from 24th position one spot ahead of his Richard Petty Motorsport team mate Aric Almirola. Former Sonoma winner Kasey Kahne didn't find his form in Saturday's session and will start from 26th place this year.
Brendan Gaughan was the only car that failed to qualify for the race. Although he stopped out on track and caused a brief red flag in the first round, Michael Annett made it into the 43-car field although he will have to drop to the back for the start after having an overnight engine change following an issue in Friday's practice session.
See full qualifying times from Sonoma Raceway.