Larson, Elliott Sweep Front Row in Sonoma Qualifying

Hendrick Motorsports continues to flex their muscle as the took the top two spots in qualifying on Saturday at Sonoma.
Larson, Elliott Sweep Front Row in Sonoma Qualifying

On the heels of a new oval race last weekend in St Louis, the Cup Series is heading back to the west coast for the second road course race of the season. Fans are being welcomed back to Sonoma Raceway as teams and drivers gear up for two road course events over the next three race weekends. Tomorrow's race will be the 33rd Cup event at Sonoma.

A different version of the Sonoma circuit is being used this weekend. The shorter 1.99-mile configuration eliminates the carousel in Turns 4-7 and brings back the longer straight chute in an effort to increase passing opportunities for drivers. The race will also go from a 90-lap event to 110 laps on Sunday.

Larson enters this weekend as the defending race winner, and today earned pole position for Sunday’s race. This will be the fifth consecutive race at Sonoma that Larson will start from pole.

"I’ve always had some good speed at Sonoma and it’s my home track," Larson said. "It’s always fun to see my friends and family and it was cool to get my first win at my home track last year. But that was with last year’s car and on the long track. Hopefully, we can lead some laps and challenge for the win again."

"I was a bit surprised I ran what I can because I gave up a lot of time in Turns 4 and 7. I felt like I could have gone quite a bit faster. Thanks to everybody on our team and everybody back at the shop and in the engine shop. I’m excited about it. For Chase to lay down the lap he did, that shows how strong he is because he was really good in race trim. I need to figure some things out on my end. I think my car’s capable of racing good. I just need to get a little bit better on the long runs and I think we’ll have a good shot.”

Larson, Elliott Sweep Front Row in Sonoma Qualifying

Despite finishing outside of the top-20 in each of the last three races, it is Larson's teammate Chase Elliott that was the betting favorite entering the weekend. The driver of the No. 9 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet has seven road course victories but he has never won here at Sonoma. Elliott finished runner-up behind Larson in last year's race, and will start alongside his teammate tomorrow.

Row 2 features a pair of Ford drivers in Chris Buescher and Michael McDowell, representing RFK Racing and Front Row Motorsports. Tyler Reddick starts 5th tomorrow and Cole Custer rolls off in the 6th starting position. Trackhouse Racing drivers Ross Chastain and Daniel Suarez will start from Row 4 tomorrow with Joey Logano and Denny Hamlin completing the top ten drivers in today's qualifying session.

Six different teams represented the top seven qualifiers today. Hamlin (10th) was the highest-qualifying Camry, but was followed by a pair of fellow Toyota drivers. Brothers Kurt and Kyle Busch will share Row 6 to start tomorrow's race. Austin Dillon, Ryan Blaney, and Chase Briscoe round out the top 15 starters.

Kyle Busch was one of the drivers expected to contend for the pole, but it wasn’t in the cards for the driver of the No. 18 Toyota. “Frustrated we didn’t have the speed to make it through,” Kyle said. “Thought we did, judging on practice, but just didn’t work out in qualifying. We’ll work overnight on ideas to fix it and make the car faster.”

AJ Allmendinger will be one of the drivers to watch tomorrow, as the road course savant tries to get Kaulig Racing back in victory lane. Sonoma has been a tough one for AJ in recent years though. His last five finishes here are 37th, 37th, 14th, 35th, and 38th, despite qualifying inside the top-five in each one of those races. All five of those races came while he was driving for JTG Daugherty Racing.

Allmendinger provided plenty of entertainment today, trying to find his groove for Sunday. “Being good for one lap and being good for a race is completely different,” he said. “I haven’t been here in four years so I’m trying to get used to the place again.”

Kevin Harvick and Kurt Busch will make their 21st start at Sonoma tomorrow, which is the most among active drivers. Harvick, who has not won in 58 races, is in jeopardy of missing out on the postseason for the first time since 2009. He is now two points behind Tyler Reddick for the final playoff spot after his massive crash last weekend at Gateway. Harvick won this race in 2017, and desperately needs to find his way back to victory lane as he starts 23rd tomorrow.

One big surprise today was the poor pace of Martin Truex Jr. The Joe Gibbs Racing driver qualified 28th and will have his work cut out for him tomorrow afternoon.

Truex has three victories at this track, and his last three finishes here are 1st, 1st, and 3rd. The Cup champion also has a familiar face on his pit stand this weekend. Cole Pearn is filling in for engineer Nick Burton, who is missing tomorrow's race to attend a wedding. Pearn and Truex won eight races during the 2017 season, which culminated with a championship trophy at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Larson, Elliott Sweep Front Row in Sonoma Qualifying

"I love going to Sonoma," Truex said. "I love the racetrack, but this week is a huge question mark for everyone. New car, new tires, five gears instead of four, different brakes, and different everything. There’s a big question mark of if our old approach will still work there. Not just the way I drive the car, but how is the tire going to be and what will the falloff be? A lot of things up in the air, but we’re doing everything we can."

Christopher Bell actually starts furthest back of the Gibbs crew, as he will roll off 31st tomorrow after a steering issue prevented him from qualifying. Bell has always performed well on road courses, winning the Daytona Road Course race last year, finishing runner-up at Road America, and 3rd earlier this season at Circuit of The Americas.

Coverage for Sunday's Toyota / Save Mart 350 at Sonoma begins at 4 PM ET on FS1.

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