Updated: March 21, 2014, 9:26 PM ET

Kenseth rolls to pole at Fontana

By Joe Breeze | ESPN.com

FONTANA, Calif. -- Matt Kenseth won the pole for Sunday's Auto Club 400 -- barely.

Kenseth had bumped Kevin Harvick from the top spot with about 90 seconds left in the final 5-minute qualifying session Friday at Auto Club Speedway, turning a lap at 187.315 mph. It turned out to be just fast enough to deny Brad Keselowski, who posted a quick lap of 187.105 just as the session ended.

It was Kenseth's 12th career Cup pole and first at Fontana. The 2003 Cup champion said he's looking forward to taking advantage of the positive track position Sunday, though a front-row start doesn't necessarily predicate success.

"Track position is important everywhere," Kenseth said after qualifying. "This is probably one of the best tracks we go to, though, as far as passing and all the different lanes … there's a lot of options here. … It's a really fun racetrack, especially when the car is driving good and doing the things you need it to do. Track position is important, but it is a track where I feel like you can come from anywhere if you have the best car and get up through there and do some passing."

Friday marked Keselowski's fourth consecutive front-row qualifying effort since he won the pole at Phoenix in the season's second race. He was second fastest the following weeks at Las Vegas and then Bristol.

"I've had a lot of fun with it," Keselowski said." I don't feel like I'm a very good qualifier, so it took me all three shots to get it in the top 10, so, fortunately, the last one was our best -- we came in second. I'm really proud of that effort and proud of my team for adjusting on the car to getting it to where we wanted it to be. … We needed all the time we could get to dial our car in and make the adjustments we needed, and we barely had enough time to get it done."

Jimmie Johnson qualified third fastest (186.935) on Friday, followed by Harvick (186.901) and Clint Bowyer (186.461).

This was the fourth knockout-qualifying run by the Cup series. The fastest 24 drivers advanced to the second round after the initial 25-minute session. The fastest 12 from that 10-minute period moved on to the shootout for the pole.

Denny Hamlin, Kyle Busch, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Ryan Newman and Kurt Busch were among those who failed to advance to the third round. Notable drivers who missed the cutoff after the first session included Jamie McMurray, Kasey Kahne, Danica Patrick and Casey Mears.



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Johnson happy to be 'home'

By Joe Breeze | ESPN.com

Don't call Auto Club Speedway the House That Jimmie Built, but the 2-mile oval in the shadows of the iconic Kaiser Steel Mill has been Jimmie Johnson's personal playground.

The six-time Sprint Cup champion is the career leader in wins at Fontana with five. He's also the leader in top-5s (12), laps led and average finish (5.7).

Johnson, a California native, won his first Cup race in April 2002 at Fontana. He still is the only driver in ACS history to win from the pole.

No surprise, then, that Johnson is anxiously awaiting the start of Sunday's Auto Club 400 (3 p.m. ET, Fox).

"I love going back to California to race," Johnson said. "If I had a home track, Fontana is definitely mine. It was the site of my first win in '02, so it's very special to me."


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In Auto Club Speedway, Johnson and his fellow competitors face their fifth contrasting track configuration in five weeks. After the season-opening Daytona 500 (2.5-mile tri-oval), they've had stops at Phoenix (1-mile D-shaped oval), Las Vegas (1.5 mile tri-oval) and Bristol (half-mile oval).

Fontana, meanwhile, dishes up a wide, 2-mile D-shaped oval with 14-degree banking in the corners and multiple grooves, posing yet another challenge for the aero package NASCAR overhauled to increase downforce and promote better side-by-side racing.

"I enjoy how the track has really spread out and the groove you can run from the bottom to the top," said Kevin Harvick, whose hometown is Bakersfield, Calif. "It's a lot of fun to move around; you can go four or five wide in the corners and down the straightaways. It's become pretty worn out over the last several years. You have to really pay attention to what your car is doing, to try and get it balanced throughout the whole run, because there is so much falloff from start to finish.

"It's also fun to race in front of a lot of your fans, family and friends that get to come to the racetrack from close to where we used to live."

Johnson certainly can relate. He hails from El Cajon, about 110 miles south of Fontana. Racing at his home track provides Johnson with an opportunity to reconnect with friends and family off the track. And on the track perhaps recapture the early-season form that saw him post three consecutive top-six finishes to open the season. A tire issue last week at Bristol put him 19th in the finishing order.

"It's a good track for us. It would be great to get the win and ourselves locked in the Chase," Johnson said. "I think our team has done well on low-grip-level racetracks. And this track's in that category. And pretty high on the list [by] today's standards. And that's usually been good for us. So hopefully we have that magic once again."

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