McMurray takes first road course pole at Infineon
SONOMA, Calif. -- Jamie McMurray outdrove the road racing specialists and the rest of the contenders Friday to win his first pole in nearly two years.
McMurray posted his lap of 1 minute, 17.521 seconds (92.414 mph) on the 1.99-mile Infineon Raceway road course midway through the session, then had to wait for NASCAR's top qualifier Ryan Newman and former Formula One star Juan Pablo Montoya, both at the rear of the qualifying line, to try to knock him off.
But Newman wound up ninth at 1:17.826 (92.062) and Montoya came up way short at 1:18.746 (90.976), good for 32nd.
"I was a little nervous," McMurray said. "I felt like somebody could definitely run faster. I definitely felt with Juan and Ryan going out later, I would definitely get beat. I kept telling everybody that."
But McMurray wound up winning his third career pole and first on a road course.
"We'd been really loose through all the high-speed corners and made up a lot of ground, so it was a good run," said McMurray, whose last pole came at Pocono in July 2005.
The Roush Fenway Racing driver nearly got one here last year, losing it to Kurt Busch. But he wound up 18th in the race.
"We had a great qualifying run here last year and I ran off in turn one and made for a long day for us," McMurray said. "We made four or five laps in a row in practice earlier and it drives really good, so the guys did a good job today."
McMurray said he loves road racing and woke up Friday morning filled with excitement.
"I'm a fan of Formula One racing and I watch that every week when I can and I recently bought two go-carts so I can do more of this kind of racing," he said. "My heart was definitely beating faster this morning when I got up, looking forward to this."
Robby Gordon, considered one of the best road racers in NASCAR, was second to McMurray at 1:17.533 (92.399), followed by Dale Earnhardt Jr. at 1:17.546 (92.384), road racing ace Boris Said at 1:17.06 (92.313) and former Sonoma winner Tony Stewart at 1:17.659 (92.263).
Gordon said McMurray had an advantage because he went later in the afternoon, when the track temperature had cooled.
"Everybody has excuses and that's mine," Gordon said. "But I think we would have been faster with a later draw."
Two of the pre-race favorites, points leader Jeff Gordon and defending Cup champion Jimmie Johnson, were not allowed to practice or qualify Friday after NASCAR inspectors failed their cars for illegal front fenders.
NASCAR allowed the teams to fix the cars and Gordon, a five-time Sonoma winner and the defending champion, and Johnson are expected to practice on Saturday and start from the rear of the 43-car field Sunday.
Like Elliott, Terry Labonte, who came out of retirement to drive for Michael Waltrip in the two Nextel Cup road races this year, didn't have to use a former series champion's provisional to make the lineup.
Labonte, who retired last November, qualified 25th to help Waltrip's team put all three of its Toyotas in the field for the first time since the season-opening Daytona 500. Dale Jarrett was 16th and P.J. Jones, a road racing specialist driving in place of rookie David Reutimann, qualified 34th.
Perhaps the biggest surprise in the field is Belgian road racer Marc Goossens, who qualified for his second Cup start. He was 21st.
Sunday will be the debut of NASCAR's new Car of Tomorrow and McMurray gave Said a lot of credit for his latest pole, noting that Said has done all the road course testing of the Roush Fenway team's COT.
"Boris did a great job," McMurray said. "They tested four or five times getting ready for this race. We unloaded here and ran my first four or five laps and said, `The car feels great.' It had a lot of speed in it.
"You just can't do it unless you have a lot of testing going on and guys developing it for you. Boris was in the second seat when I took my first ride in a stock car on a road course and he has helped just about everybody in this series learn the fundamentals of road racing. He's an incredible teacher and road racer."
Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press