McMurray Wins Sonoma Pole

Jamie McMurray

Jamie McMurray won the pole with a lap of 94.986 mph. (Photo Getty Images)

SONOMA, Calif. - Instead of worrying about strategy for Sunday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Sonoma Raceway, Jamie McMurray will just enjoy winning the pole.

McMurray scored his first pole of the season and second at this 1.99-mile course Saturday with a lap of 94.986 mph. His most recent pole came in March 2011 at Martinsville Speedway.

McMurray won the pole as the Cup series used group qualifying for the first time. Drivers were allowed to qualify in groups of five or six for up to five minutes instead of having one car go around the track alone.

McMurray was in the final group and took the pole from Marcos Ambrose, also was in the last session. Ambrose, who tested here last month, starts second after a lap of 94.924 mph.

“This is the way they should have done it for years,’’ said Dale Earnhardt Jr., who will start 26th. “It’s a lot easier to get everything done and get everything accomplished, and it gives us a little bit more exciting session to watch. I’m all for it.”

McMurray started on the pole at this track in 2007 but it was not a memorable day, staring with the opening lap.

“I remember sitting on the pole here last time and not sleeping the whole night, worried about strategy and what we were going to do,’’ said McMurray, who finished 37th in that race. “I got to the turn and I got off the track and I came off 35th or 40th.’’

This time he won’t worry about whether his team plans to stretch fuel and make it on two pit stops or use a three stop strategy.

Behind McMurray and Ambrose are Roush Fenway Racing teammates Carl Edwards and Greg Biffle, who have mended any hard feelings from last week when Biffle didn’t slow early in the race to allow Edwards to remove debris from his grille. Defending race winner Clint Bowyer starts fifth.

Sixth through 10th has Matt Kenseth, Kurt Busch, Joey Logano, Kyle Busch and Jeff Gordon.

Among the road-racing specialists who are making a rare Cup start, Jacques Villeneuve starts 22nd with Boris Said 24th and Ron Fellows 25th.

Martin Truex Jr. will start 14th, completing a qualifying lap before he pulled off course during his group session. The culprit was a wiring harness to the cool box, which he wasn’t even using.

“Something burned up in the race car,’’ Truex said. “The last few turns of the lap, I definitely screwed up because I had smoke flying and it smelled really bad. I was like, ‘Oh no, what’s going on here?’ So, my concentration was kind of messed up. I think we’re going to be okay.’’

Also, four drivers will be making their Sprint Cup debuts. Justin Marks starts 36th, Alex Kennedy starts 39th and Victor Gonzalez Jr., who crashed during his session, starts 42nd. Paulie Harraka starts 40th and will become the first graduate of the Drive for Diversity program to start a Cup race.

Jason Bowles qualified 34th. Brian Vickers, who competed in Saturday’s Nationwide race at Road America, will drive the car in Sunday’s race and start at the back of the field because of the driver change.

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