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Hot streak continues for California Kid Larson; Earns pole position at Sonoma

By: Bill Sullivan and NASCAR Media
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Local favorite Kyle Larson is turning heads in a big way once again this week, and this time, it's right here at the one NASCAR track in his own backyard.  Saturday afternoon, Larson, 24, made an impressive charge to earn  the Coors Light Pole Award in Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series qualifying Saturday at Sonoma Raceway. For Larson, the pole is the first in NASCAR road course competition.

“It feels good,” Larson said of his final qualifying lap, which secured his third pole of the season, his first at Sonoma and the fourth of his premier-series career. “This is my home track, I grew up about an hour and a half from here. So, I spent a lot of time in Napa Valley hanging out with (fellow racer) Rico Abreu and the Abreu family, so, always love coming to Sonoma. It’s a fun place and our race cars are always fast.

“I felt like I’ve had a shot at the pole every time I’ve qualified here and just haven’t gotten the job done.”

Larson posted a best lap of 95.295 mph around the 1.99-mile road course in California wine country. The series points leader’s Chip Ganassi Racing No. 42 Chevrolet will start first in Sunday’s Toyota/Save Mart 350.

Jamie McMurray, Larson’s Ganassi teammate, will share the front row on the starting grid after notching the second-fastest lap at 95.204 mph in the No. 1 Chevrolet. Martin Truex Jr., Kyle Busch and AJ Allmendinger rounded out the top five in qualifying.

Chase Elliott, who spun and later crashed his primary Hendrick Motorsports No. 24 Chevrolet in Friday’s practices, reversed his fortunes Saturday. He registered the fastest lap in the opening 25-minute round of qualifying, driving his backup car. Elliott will start eighth Sunday.

Clint Bowyer, a former Sonoma winner, wound up on the short end of the first round of qualifying, missing the 12-driver cut to advance to the last of two rounds of qualifying by .002 seconds. He’ll start 13th in the first of two road-course events of the season.

Five drivers will be making their first premier-series start in Sunday’s 110-lap race. Billy Johnson was the fastest of the newbies, logging the 26th-fastest lap in the Richard Petty Motorsports No. 43 Ford. The sports-car ace will be this weekend’s interim driver in place of the injured Aric Almirola, who is still recovering from a broken back suffered last month in a crash at Kansas Speedway.

Alon Day, set to be the first Israeli-born driver to make a Monster Energy Series start, was 32nd-fastest in the BK Racing No. 23 Toyota. Newcomers Josh Bilicki (33rd), Kevin O’Connell (36th) and Tommy Regan (37th) will occupy spots near the back of the field.

Matt Kenseth did not post a qualifying speed and will start last in the 38-car field. Kenseth’s Joe Gibbs Racing No. 20 Toyota was already scheduled to start at the back of the pack after a broken oil pump belt required an engine change in Friday practice.