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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.

Joey Logano completes sweep of Xfinity practices at Auto Club Speedway

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Joey Logano was fastest in the final Xfinity Series practice session at Auto Club Speedway for the Service King 300.

Driving Team Penske’s No. 22 Ford, Logano put up a speed of 176.804 mph on his 19th of 35 laps in the session

The top five as made up of Erik Jones (176.744), Paul Menard (176.587), Brandon Jones (176.475) and Kyle Larson (176.039).

William Byron and Brennan Poole recorded the most laps in the session with 37 each.

Logan also had the best 10-lap average at 174.889 mph.

Click here for the full practice report.

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

 

Steve Letarte on pro athlete socializing in pregame: ‘Nothing irritates me more’

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During the latest episode of his podcast, Dale Earnhardt Jr. said NASCAR “doesn’t want a bunch of buddies out there racing around.”

His former crew chief expressed the same sentiment on the latest NASCAR on NBC podcast.

“Nothing irritates me more than going to a football or basketball game early and seeing two superstars from separate teams speak to each other pre-event,” NASCAR on NBC analyst Steve Letarte said on the episode released Wednesday. “Post-event is different. But pre-event, nothing is more frustrating. I want to turn my ticket in and leave.

“I’m a sports fan. I hate the Yankees. I’m a Red Sox fan. The last thing I want to do is go to Fenway Park and see the starting pitcher from the Red Sox chum it up with the Yankees. Nah, man. Take my ticket back. I’m leaving.”

The podcast also prompted a Wednesday night discussion on NASCAR America (VIDEO ABOVE) with Kyle Petty and Parker Kligerman weighing in on the topic.

Letarte, who was the crew chief for Earnhardt’s No. 88 Chevrolet from 2011-14, suggested NASCAR needs to consider reconfiguring its driver introductions.

“When I see prerace, these drivers hanging out, there is a responsibility to be civil,” Letarte said. “We jam them in this pen. I wish all that changed. I wish they wouldn’t even give them the opportunity to hang out with one another.

“As a sport, we do a disservice to our drivers when we put them in this holding pen behind driver introductions. I think it should be there’s a reason there are locker rooms on two sides of the stadium. They personally don’t want your paths to cross before battle.

“I wish there was a creative way to do that for race car drivers. Because I don’t like to see them hanging out and being buddies. I want them to beat the crap out of each other on the racetrack. Our fans are that way. Why shouldn’t the competitors be that way?”

The dynamic of driver relationships has changed since two decades ago with the introduction of motorhomes that created a virtual infield neighborhood that put stars inches apart all the time.

But Letarte believes precedents have shown that rivalries can exist despite friendships.

Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt Sr. had major businesses together,” Letarte said. “They had more respect for each other than anyone I’ve ever seen. Yet when that helmet strap went on, they hated each other. So it’s not too much. It’s been proven it can be done. So do it. I think you can live two lives and to be a professional sports star, you must.

“If you’re Kyle Larson who wants to play golf with Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Danica Patrick and hang out because they all like sprint cars and have a lot in common, that’s fine. Until the day Kyle Larson doesn’t want to put the bumper to Ricky Stenhouse because he’s going to have to see him at the dirt track later.”

You can listen to the podcast by clicking on the AudioBoom embed below or download and subscribe to the podcast on iTunes by clicking here. The free subscription will provide automatic downloads of new episodes to your smartphone. It also is available on Stitcher by clicking here and also can be found on Google Play, Spotify and a host of other smartphone apps.