There was no question as to who was the fastest NASCAR Sprint Cup driver at Auto Club Speedway on Friday, with Richard Childress Racing's Austin Dillon topping the day's sole practice session and then sweeping to pole position later in the afternoon ahead of Stewart Haas Racing's Kevin Harvick and Joe Gibbs Racing's Denny Hamlin.
"Very cool, just huge for RCR," said Dillon, who had claimed his only previous pole position all the way back in 2014 for that year's season opener. "A Daytona 500 pole sitter, now I got a pole somewhere else. To do it at a drivers race track like this at Fontana it means a lot to me.
"We've wanted to get our cars back to this moment in time to put ourselves in a shot to win a race," he continued. "We've had fast cars all year long. I knew going into that third session if I didn't make mistakes I would have a shot. I just stayed with it off of 4. I kept my locker locked as much as I could with the gas just keeping as much fuel to the car as I could. It worked out for us.”
Dillon's final round pole-winning time was 38.200s (188.482mph) which was just 0.031s ahead of Harvick who himself had more than a tenth in hand over third-fastest Hamlin.
"This is the first qualifying/practice and then going from practice to qualifying that I think we have all felt like the car did exactly what we thought it was going to do," noted Harvick. "Our goal was to run the same lap time all three rounds usually that is going to put you in a spot to have a chance, but all-in-all it's been a good start to the weekend and really looking forward to the race on Sunday."
"It was pretty good," was Hamlin's reaction with his own session. "It was a pretty easy day for us. We didn't have to change a whole lot. I was pretty happy with it, I just messed up a little bit on that final run and cost us a little bit of time. Other than that, not too bad."
Dillon's team mate Ryan Newman will join Hamlin on the second row, with Hamlin's team mates Carl Edwards and Kyle Busch making row three a lock-out for JGR. Roush Fenway Racing's Trevor Bayne and Hendrick Motorsport pair on on the fourth row, with Penske's Joey Logano and Chip Ganassi Racing's Jamie McMurray rounding out the top ten.
"It was pretty event-free, really," reported Bayne. "It was kind of nice because every session we were comfortably around the top ten.
"In qualifying trim we just over-adjusted for the last run," he added. "The cooler temperatures kind of threw our adjustments off a little bit. It shaded up in three and four and I just got too loose on that last run. I think maybe if we kept it closer to what we did the second round on adjustments that we might have had a shot at the pole, but Austin laid down a really fast lap time for three rounds."
"We wanted to be a little better than that with our Auto Club Fusion," admitted Logano. " We tried something different on the last run. We were seventh in the second round and in the last round we just decided to try something different and hopefully hit a home run and swing for the fence and it just didn't work.
"Our car is decent," he insisted. "We made a few race runs today. There weren't many cars that did, so it's kind of hard to say where we stack up on that, but I don't think we're that bad. I think there are definitely some signs of greatness in our car."
The last two drivers through to the final round pole shoot-out were AJ Allmendinger (JTG Daugherty Racing) and Hendrick's Kasey Kahne, while RCR's Paul Menard just missed out on joining his team mate and will start from 13th place alongside Wood Brothers Racing's Ryan Blaney.
"The qualifying session went OK," said Blaney. "It wasn't want we wanted because you obviously want to be in the last round, but we made a pretty good gain from where we were the first round to the second round. We weren't very good in the first round and just didn't adjust enough for the second one and barely missed it, but they did a good job of getting us better between rounds. It was close, but just not enough. We'll find out how good our race trim car is tomorrow."
Penske's Brad Keselowski also failed to make the final round and will start from 15th place alongside Roush's Chris Buescher.
"We had a great first round, but I think as you saw some cars were able to keep their speed and we seemed to kind of fall off a little bit," said Keselowski. "We've got to work on that and look at it, but this is always an interesting race because it seems like you have cars that are good on long runs and cars that are good on short runs, and the last few years it's come down to short runs. It kind of appears that's the case this weekend as it was last year when we won."
"We didn't miss the third round by much, so that's really exciting," pointed out Buescher. "We've got some speed this weekend. We've been pretty decent right off the truck, so it's a big turnaround. I'm really proud of all these guys. They've worked really hard to get to this point and to have it in just a week's time is a pleasant change, and now we get to start in a much better spot for the race."
Furniture Row Racing's Martin Truex Jr. was second-fastest to Dillon on practice but could only manage 17th place in qualifying putting him alongside third Roush driver Ricky Stenhouse Jr. on the grid.
"We had a good run in the first session but for some reason the car got tight in the second round," sighed Truex. "We made some good runs today — second fastest in practice and seventh fastest in the first round [of qualifying] but we missed it a little in the second round and you can't have that at this place. I am confident our Furniture Row/Denver Mattress Toyota will be strong Sunday and there will be plenty of time to get to the front."
Hendrick's Jimmie Johnson will be disappointed to qualify in 19th which puts hims alongside JGR's Matt Kenseth. Richard Petty Motorsports' Brian Scott, Roush's Greg Biffle, Germain Racing's Casey Mears and SHR's Brian Vickers were the rest of the drivers to make it as far as the second round before being eliminated.
"We just got really tight," said Vickers who is sitting in this weekend for the injured Tony Stewart in the #14 car. "It's funny we fought loose in qualifying practice and just got really tight out of 2 in qualifying there. We didn't really see that coming, didn't expect it, so we are going to go back and look at everything.
"I felt really good about the car in race trim this morning. I think we were faster in race trim than qualifying trim. I'm not worried about it at all tomorrow or the race we've got a little work cut out for us, but it's easy to pass here. It's a great race track, a lot of fun."
RPM's Aric Almirola (25th), SHR's Kurt Busch (26th), Hendrick's Dale Earnhardt Jr. (27th), SHR's Danica Patrick (31st) and Ganassi's Kyle Larson (32nd) were all surprise early eliminations at the end of the first round of qualifying at the two-mile superspeedway, but all 39 cars taking part qualified for the grid for Sunday's race.
See full qualifying and Friday practice times from Auto Club Speedway
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