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Jamie McMurray captures pole for Toyota/Save Mart 350

  • Marcus Ambrose, left congratulates Jamie McMurray, Saturday June 22, 2013 after McMurray took the pole for the 25th annual Toyota/ Save Mart 350 at Sonoma Raceway. Ambrose qualified second. (Kent Porter / Press Democrat) 2013

SONOMA — Jamie McMurray captured the pole position for the 2013 Toyota/Save Mart 350, and he's hoping that it isn't a harbinger of disaster.

McMurray won the pole here once before, in 2007, and it did not present a clear path to victory. Driving hard to be the first-lap leader that day, McMurray got tangled with Robby Gordon on the first turn and spun out. Just like that, he went from first to last. Then, charging to catch up with the pack, he got into another jackpot on Turn 7 and ripped off his front bumper. He finished the race 37th.

There's no telling where McMurray will end up this time, but one thing is certain. He isn't going to overthink his race strategy.

NASCAR Toyota/Save Mart 350

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"I remember sitting on the pole here last time, and not sleeping all night worrying about pit strategy and what we were gonna do," McMurray said after clocking his fast lap in 1 minute, 15.422 seconds, at an average speed of 94.986 miles per hour. " ... I don't know and I'm not gonna worry about it."

After a week's worth of talk speculating that the drivers would shatter track speed marks in the new Generation 6 car, the times were indeed quite fast Saturday at Sonoma Raceway, though no one matched Marcos Ambrose's record of 1:15.203, set last year. Ambrose was second this year at 1:15.471, and will join McMurray on the front row. Behind them are Carl Edwards (1:15.586), Greg Biffle (1:15.592), defending champion Clint Bowyer (1:15.620) and Matt Kenseth (1:15.711). Current points leader Jimmie Johnson was 19th, with a time of 1:16.471.

The qualifying sessions involved powerful stock cars whizzing around Sonoma's 10-turn, 1.99-mile road course, but the format was a departure from previous years. Rather than sending cars out one at a time, NASCAR dispersed drivers in groups of five or six, each separated by a five-second gap. And drivers were allowed more than the traditional one lap. They had a maximum of five minutes on the road — enough for three laps in most cases — not counting a warm-up circuit before the green flag. The new system played to mostly positive reviews among the drivers.

"This is the way they should have done it for years," said Dale Earnhardt Jr., who qualified 26th. "It's a lot easier to get everything done and get everything accomplished, and it gives us a little bit more exciting session to watch. So I'm all for it."

Or as Edwards put it: "It's fun. It's a little less lonely out there with all your friends running at the same time."

But don't count Kyle Busch, who will start in ninth position, as a fan. "I'd rather prefer it the other way," he said. " ... I think it hurts us as teams. TV is trying to cover five cars out there at once, instead of just solely focusing on one (where) you get a chance to at least see where you've gained or lost time relative to the field — and also TV time for your sponsors."

That message brought to you by M&Ms.


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