Richard Childress Racing finally has something to celebrate. After many races of frustration, RCR driver Austin Dillon won the pole Friday night at Auto Club Speedway for Sunday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Auto Club 400. Dillon will lead the field to the green in the iconic number 3 Chevy with teammate Ryan Newman in fourth behind him. Former Childress driver Kevin Harvick will start second with new track record holder Denny Hamlin third.
It was the was the second career pole for Dillon his first coming at Daytona in 2014. Friday’s qualifying results also marks the first time since Atlanta in 2008 that two RCR cars will start in the top five.
“It means everything,” Dillon said. “That is what I said down the backstretch. A Daytona 500 pole sitter, now I got a pole somewhere else. To do it at a drivers racetrack like this at Fontana it means a lot to me.”
Dillon, who earlier led Friday’s 90-minute practice session, put down a lap of 38.200, 188.482 mph with less than 20-seconds to go in the third and final five-minute session. The lap tied the time out down by Brad Keselowski who topped the first round. Hamlin led the second round setting a new track record of 38.194, 188.511 mph. Dillon was 14th in the first session of 10-minutes and third in the second 10-minutes.
“I knew going into that third session if I didn’t make mistakes I would have a shot,” Dillon said. “I just stayed with it off of (Turn) 4. I kept my locker locked as much as I could with the gas just keeping as much fuel to the car as I could. It worked out for us.”
Behind Dillon, Harvick, Hamlin and Newman, Carl Edwards who led for the first part of the final session will start fifth. Harvick, who admitted to having no qualifying agenda prior to the start, was happy to secure a spot on the front row.
“Each round was a little bit different,” Harvick said. “The second round I had a little traffic getting onto the race track. The first round was pretty clean. I didn’t really change anything. I think I caught the inside of that seam with the right-side tires a little more than I wanted to through (Turns) 1 and 2 and it just started to step out and I had to pedal it three or four times down there because it was loose. Pretty good through (Turns) 3 and 4, but all-in-all a good day for our Jimmy John’s/Busch team and hopefully we can cap that off with a win when we get done on Sunday.”
Thanks to a hive of bees, the flagman was moved from the flagstand to a spot at the fence prior to the start of the session. There were no issues with the flagging, but several drivers had issues with qualifying. Chief among them was Dale Earnhardt Jr. Earnhardt nearly spun exiting turn 4 on his first run and was forced to make a second. He wasn’t able to improve and for the second week in a row he failed to advance out of the first round. Earnhardt will start 27th Sunday. His teammate Jimmie Johnson wasn’t able to advance out of the second round and will start 19th. Hendrick driver Kasey Kahne waited too late to try and make a run in the final round and failed to make it to the line prior to time expiring; he will start 12th. Rookie and fourth Hendrick driver Chase Elliott had a clean session and will start 8th. The full qualifying results from Friday can be found here.
Just in front of Elliott, Kyle Busch will start sixth, and Trevor Bayne seventh. Joey Logano and Jamie McMurray round out the top 10 while AJ Allmendinger will start 11th. The full lineup for Sunday can be found here.
With 39 cars entered all made the field. The NASCAR Sprint Cup Auto Club 400 will get the green flag Sunday just after 3:30 p.m. ET with live coverage on Fox starting at 3:00 p.m. ET.