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August 1, 2014

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McMurray wins pole for road course race at Sonoma

SONOMA, Calif. — Jamie McMurray won the pole for Sunday's race at Sonoma Raceway with a track record lap that bumped AJ Allmendinger from the top starting spot.

Allmendinger seemed to have the pole locked down until McMurray turned a lap at 96.350 mph in the final minute of Saturday's qualifying session. It broke the record of 95.262 mph set by Marcos Ambrose in 2012.

"Great lap, I am so excited," McMurray said. "I thought our car in race trim was really good, really good on the long runs. We're not going to change a whole lot, I feel really good about it."

It's the first pole of the season for McMurray, 10th of his career, and third at Sonoma. McMurray also started from the pole last year but finished 25th.

Allmendinger wound up second in a race he believes he can win. He was out of the Sprint Cup Series a year ago because of a failed random NASCAR drug test in 2012, so while the series was racing at Sonoma, Allmendinger was in the Nationwide Series race at Road America.

He delivered in the Wisconsin race for his first career victory and found his way back into a full-time ride in Cup. He wasn't disappointed after McMurray bumped him from the pole, but it eyeing another win.

"We were in position to have (the pole), so it could be a lot worse," Allmendinger said. "It sucks when you are that close, but you know what? Jamie put in a heck of a lap. We've got a clean view of the track when we go green and we're going to have some fun tomorrow. We've got a pretty good shot to win this thing."

In a surprise, McMurray's rookie teammate Kyle Larson was third to give Chip Ganassi Racing two cars in the top three. Larson doesn't have a ton of road course experience, and the rookie is admittedly still learning how to shift.

Carl Edwards was fourth and followed by Kurt Busch, Kevin Harvick and Ryan Newman. The rest of the top 12 included Brian Vickers, Paul Menard, Joey Logano, Danica Patrick and Casey Mears. Patrick has now advanced into the final round of qualifying five times this season.

Hendrick Motorsports goes into Sunday's race looking to extend its five-race winning streak, but its drivers will have to come from deep in the field to make it six straight. Jeff Gordon, the all-time winner at Sonoma with five victories, was the highest-qualifying Hendrick driver at 15th.

Jimmie Johnson, winner of three of the last four races, qualified 22nd. It's his lowest starting spot at Sonoma since 2007.

Failing to advance in the final group of 12 in qualifying were road course favorites Tony Stewart, the only Stewart-Haas Racing driver not to make it into the final group, as well as Ambrose and defending race winner Martin Truex Jr.

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