SONOMA, Calif. -- Jamie McMurray outdrove the road racing
specialists and the rest of the contenders Friday to win his first
pole in nearly two years.
McMurray posted his lap of 1 minute, 17.521 seconds (92.414 mph)
on the 1.99-mile Infineon Raceway road course midway through the
session, then had to wait for NASCAR's top qualifier Ryan Newman
and former Formula One star Juan Pablo Montoya, both at the rear of
the qualifying line, to try to knock him off.
But Newman wound up ninth at 1:17.826 (92.062) and Montoya came
up way short at 1:18.746 (90.976), good for 32nd.
"I was a little nervous," McMurray said. "I felt like
somebody could definitely run faster. I definitely felt with Juan
and Ryan going out later, I would definitely get beat. I kept
telling everybody that."
But McMurray wound up winning his third career pole and first on
a road course.
"We'd been really loose through all the high-speed corners and
made up a lot of ground, so it was a good run," said McMurray,
whose last pole came at Pocono in July 2005.
The Roush Fenway Racing driver nearly got one here last year,
losing it to Kurt Busch. But he wound up 18th in the race.
"We had a great qualifying run here last year and I ran off in
turn one and made for a long day for us," McMurray said. "We made
four or five laps in a row in practice earlier and it drives really
good, so the guys did a good job today."
McMurray said he loves road racing and woke up Friday morning
filled with excitement.
"I'm a fan of Formula One racing and I watch that every week
when I can and I recently bought two go-carts so I can do more of
this kind of racing," he said. "My heart was definitely beating
faster this morning when I got up, looking forward to this."
Robby Gordon, considered one of the best road racers in NASCAR,
was second to McMurray at 1:17.533 (92.399), followed by Dale
Earnhardt Jr. at 1:17.546 (92.384), road racing ace Boris Said at
1:17.06 (92.313) and former Sonoma winner Tony Stewart at 1:17.659
Gordon said McMurray had an advantage because he went later in
the afternoon, when the track temperature had cooled.
"Everybody has excuses and that's mine," Gordon said. "But I
think we would have been faster with a later draw."
Two of the pre-race favorites, points leader Jeff Gordon and
defending Cup champion Jimmie Johnson, were not allowed to practice
or qualify Friday after NASCAR inspectors failed their cars for
illegal front fenders.
NASCAR allowed the teams to fix the cars and Gordon, a five-time
Sonoma winner and the defending champion, and Johnson are expected
to practice on Saturday and start from the rear of the 43-car field
Like Elliott, Terry Labonte, who came out of retirement to drive
for Michael Waltrip in the two Nextel Cup road races this year,
didn't have to use a former series champion's provisional to make
Labonte, who retired last November, qualified 25th to help
Waltrip's team put all three of its Toyotas in the field for the
first time since the season-opening Daytona 500. Dale Jarrett was
16th and P.J. Jones, a road racing specialist driving in place of
rookie David Reutimann, qualified 34th.
Perhaps the biggest surprise in the field is Belgian road racer
Marc Goossens, who qualified for his second Cup start. He was 21st.
Sunday will be the debut of NASCAR's new Car of Tomorrow and
McMurray gave Said a lot of credit for his latest pole, noting that
Said has done all the road course testing of the Roush Fenway
"Boris did a great job," McMurray said. "They tested four or
five times getting ready for this race. We unloaded here and ran my
first four or five laps and said, `The car feels great.' It had a
lot of speed in it.
"You just can't do it unless you have a lot of testing going on
and guys developing it for you. Boris was in the second seat when I
took my first ride in a stock car on a road course and he has
helped just about everybody in this series learn the fundamentals
of road racing. He's an incredible teacher and road racer."