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Starting grid for the NASCAR Cup Series’ Auto Club 400

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With the second pole of his NASCAR Cup Series career, Kyle Larson will lead the field to green Sunday in the Auto Club 400 at Auto Club Speedway.

Joining Larson the front row is Denny Hamlin.

Filling out the top five is Brad Keselowski, Martin Treux Jr. and Ryan Newman.

Click here for the starting grid.

Kyle Larson wins pole for Auto Club 400, second Cup pole of career

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Kyle Larson ended a three-year drought by winning the pole for the NASCAR Cup Series’ Auto Club 400.

Larson won his second Cup Series pole with a speed of 187.047 mph around Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California. His first pole came in the August 2013 race at Pocono Raceway.

The pole continues Larson’s impressive start to 2017. The Chip Ganassi Racing driver leads the point standings after earning three consecutive second-place finishes.

“I felt like messed up there in Turn 1 and 2 and I got a little bit loose off the wall on the entry and it got me to split the seam in (Turn) 1 and 2,” Larson told Fox Sports. “I was able to commit to (being) wide open off (Turn) 1 and 2. I hadn’t ran up high in (Turn) 3 and 4 at all in practice or qualifying here. Didn’t really know what I would have out there but ran a good ways and it stuck. … Our Target team has been really amazing to start the season and to get a pole is great. … Got a little team dinner tonight, so this will be a good thing to celebrate.”

Larson’s run knocked Joe Gibbs Racing’s Denny Hamlin from the top spot. As Larson drove down pit road, a Fox Sports camera caught Hamlin playfully showing his dissatisfaction by emptying a cup of ice in the direction of the No. 42.

“This is No. 1 on my list of track I want to win,” Hamlin told Fox Sports. “It’s bitten me mentally and physically … definitely one I want to check off.”

Filling out the top five is Hamlin, Brad Keselowski, Martin Truex Jr and Ryan Newman.

Daniel Suarez qualified 10th for his best career Cup start.

No Hendrick Motorsports entries will start in the top 10. Kasey Kahne was the top qualifier in 12th, followed by Chase Elliott.

Five cars did not make qualifying attempts, with one of them being by choice. Jimmie Johnson’s team elected not to make an attempt following his accident in practice. He will start 37th.

Joining Johnson at the back of the field will be Joey Logano, Trevor Bayne, Matt DiBenedetto and Gray Gaulding. All of their cars did not make it through inspection in time to qualifying.

Click here for qualifying results.

Kyle Larson fastest in opening Cup practice at Auto Club Speedway

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Kyle Larson posted the fastest lap in practice Friday at Auto Club Speedway at 189.071 mph. He was followed by Denny Hamlin (188.462 mph), Kevin Harvick (188.344), Jamie McMurray (187.940) and Joey Logano (187.588).

Defending race winner Jimmie Johnson had to go to a backup car after losing control in Turn 4 and sliding into the infield grass. The front of his car dug into the ground and was damaged. That was the only incident in the session involving cars. The session was stopped briefly for an owl on the track.

Cup teams will qualify at 7:05 p.m. ET (4:05 p.m. Pacific)

Click here for results of Cup practice

 

Upon Further Review: Dramatic finishes common occurrence at Auto Club Speedway

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After late-race passes for the win in each of the first four races this year, and six if you go back to last season, can it get any better for the NASCAR Cup Series?

Yes. Auto Club Speedway is next.

This is home to NASCAR’s buzzer-beaters in this time of March Madness.

While the last six Cup races have seen the final pass for the lead take place in the last eight laps — Kurt Busch won the Daytona 500 with a last-lap pass — Auto Club Speedway has been the home of even more thrilling finishes.

The last four races at the 2-mile track in Southern California have seen the winning pass made in the final two laps. Go back a little further, and it is five of the last six races. Restarts, pit strategy, multiple lanes and good old-fashioned horsepower have combined to give fans some of the most exciting finishes in recent years. 

Consider all the late-race excitement:

In 2016, Kyle Busch caused a caution with a blown tire that sent him into the wall and the race into overtime. Kevin Harvick led. Jimmie Johnson, his car adorned in the Superman paint scheme, passed Harvick in Turn 3 on the way to the white flag and pulled away for the win.

In 2015, a debris caution sent the race to its second overtime attempt with Kurt Busch leading. Brad Keselowski restarted sixth with four fresh tires and was second to begin the final lap. Keselowski charged by Busch to win.

In 2014, Kurt Busch led on the overtime restart and was challenged by teammate Tony Stewart. As Busch and Stewart raced side-by-side for the lead to begin the final lap, Kyle Busch closed. Stewart took the lead off Turn 2, and Kyle Busch soon motored past him and held off Kyle Larson to win.

In 2013, Kyle Busch emerged the winner after Joey Logano and Denny Hamlin dueled for the win on the last lap and made contact, sending Hamlin’s car into an inside concrete wall. Hamlin would miss four races after suffering an L1 compression fracture. 

The string of late-race passes for the win at Auto Club Speedway was broken in 2012 when Tony Stewart led the final 22 laps.

Auto Club Speedway doesn’t have a monopoly on such finishes. In the last 148 Cup races (dating back to the start of the 2013 season), 37.1 percent saw the final lead change take place within the final 10 laps. Yet, of the 12 races since 2013 that were determined on the final lap, three of those (25 percent) were at Auto Club Speedway, most of any track.

Johnson has scored more victories taking the lead within the final 10 laps than any other driver since 2013. Eight of his 20 wins (40 percent) during that span came after he took the lead within the final 10 laps. 

Logano and Keselowski are next.

Seven of Logano’s 15 wins (46.7 percent) since 2013 came after taking the lead in the final 10 laps.

Seven of Keselowski’s 13 wins (53.8 percent) since 2013 came after taking the lead in the final 10 laps.

While all of this is no guarantee of what Sunday will be like, if this weekend’s finish can match what has taken place there in recent years, it should be quite an ending.

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An explanation why Denny Hamlin had to start at the rear at Phoenix

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Denny Hamlin qualified 19th for Sunday’s race at Phoenix Raceway but he started at the back of the field because of a cut tire discovered after qualifying.

So why was Hamlin penalized for something out of his control?

Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR executive vice president and chief racing development officer, explained it Monday on “The Morning Drive” on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio.

“It’s a really tough break, and it’s one of those things where there’s really not a great solution,’’ O’Donnell said. “If something happens to a tire while you’ve started qualifying … you cut a tire, you are forced to start in the back. The reason for that is we worked with the race teams and they said ‘Don’t tempt us,’ and by that I mean, ‘I won the pole, and I’m going to go out there and flat spot a tire and now I’m on the pole and now you need to give me new tires.’ It’s a balance for us to be able to police it. It’s unfortunate. It doesn’t happen often. Denny had to go to the back. It happened to two cars in the Xfinity Series as well.’’

Section 20.16.2.5.e of the NASCAR Cup Rule Book states that “unless otherwise stated or authorized by the Series Managing Director, the tires used during Qualifying must be used to start the Race.”

Section 20.16.2.5.h of the NASCAR Cup Rule Book includes a chart that notes should a damaged tire be replaced after qualifying, teams can replace it with a scuff but must start at the rear of the field unless Goodyear confirms a manufacturing abnormality with that tire.

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