NSCS: Hamlin Sets Track Record, But Austin Dillon Snares Coors Light Pole in Fontana Qualifying

Kyle Souza Featured, NASCAR, Southwest, West 0 Comments

FONTANA, Calif. — Story by Race Chaser Online New England Correspondent Kyle Souza — Jonathan Moore/Getty Images for NASCAR photo —

Austin Dillon had a perfect Friday at Auto Club Speedway.

After leading NASCAR Sprint Cup Series practice earlier in the day, Dillon stormed to the top of Coors Light Pole Qualifying at the two-mile California oval, scoring his second career premier series pole in impressive fashion by topping the third and final round of knockout qualifying.

The Welcome, N.C. native found himself on top of the time trial charts for the first time on a non-restrictor plate track in his career at NASCAR’s top level, coming just short of the track record with a lap of 38.200 seconds (188.482 mph).

“This means everything,” Dillon said with a smile while celebrating. “To do this at Fontana, it means a lot to me. We’ve had fast cars all year long and I knew going into the third round if I didn’t make mistakes we would have a shot.”

While Dillon will start from the pole for Sunday’s Auto Club 400, his closest challengers know the way around the track and will put up a fight right from the green flag.

Home state native Kevin Harvick will join Dillon on the front-row for Sunday’s Auto Club 400 (3:30 p.m. ET, FOX, MRN, SiriusXM), posting a lap of 38.231 seconds (188.329 mph) in the final round. The 2014 Sprint Cup champion will be looking for his second Fontana victory come race day, after winning this race in 2011.

“Each round was a little bit different,” Harvick said. “I didn’t really change anything. I think I caught the seam a little more than I wanted to and it was a little loose. It was a good day for our team, hopefully we can cap this off with a win when we get done on Sunday.”

Denny Hamlin’s No. 11 Sports Clips Toyota set the Auto Club track record on Friday night — just not when it counted most. Hamlin ran a lap of 38.194 seconds (188.511 mph) in round two to garner recognition, but finished third in the final round with a lap of 38.372 seconds (187.637 mph) and will start from the inside of row two.

Ryan Newman (38.446/187.276) and Carl Edwards (38.446/187.276) rounded out the ‘Fast Five’, followed by Kyle Busch, Trevor Bayne, Chase Elliott, Joey Logano, Jamie McMurray, A.J. Allemndinger and Kasey Kahne as the rest of the 12 drivers who made it through all three knockout rounds.

Kahne did not make it to the start-finish line in time to start an official lap in the final round, dropping him to the rear of the ‘Dirty Dozen’ as a result.

Drivers Stuck in the Middle

While his two teammates advanced to the final round, Paul Menard wasn’t as fortunate. Menard was the first driver to miss the final stretch, qualifying 13th in his No. 27 Menards/Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet.

Other notables in the second dozen included Rookie of the Year contender Ryan Blaney, who will roll from 14th for the Wood Brothers on Sunday afternoon; defending race winner Brad Keselowski (15th); Front Row Motorsports rookie and reigning XFINITY champion Chris Buescher (16th); five-time Fontana winner Jimmie Johnson (19th) and Stewart Haas Racing super-sub Brian Vickers (24th), making his third start in the No. 14 Chevrolet for Tony Stewart.

Coming From the Back

Aric Almirola’s No. 43 Smithfield Ford was the first car that failed to escape the round one knockout, meaning he will start 25th on Sunday, but other big names also found themselves buried deep in the qualifying order as well — including both Kurt Busch and Dale Earnhardt Jr.

After a slower first run than he expected, Busch attempted a second run behind the wheel of his No. 41 Haas Automation Chevrolet, but could not improve his speed. Busch will start in 26th on Sunday.

Earnhardt Jr. made an incredible save on his first run behind the wheel of his No. 88 Nationwide Chevrolet when he got sideways in the seams in turn three. He returned to the track for a second run, but could not improve when he ran out for the second time. He will roll off of the grid in 27th for Sunday’s 400 mile event.

Clint Bowyer continued to struggle in his first and only season driving for HScott Motorsports, finishing the qualifying session 29th. Slotting in behind the Emporia, Kansas driver in 32nd was California’s Kyle Larson, who struggled with the handling all afternoon on his No. 42 Target/Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet and could find little speed around the two-mile oval.

With only 39 drivers in attendance for a 40-car field, no one failed to qualify for the event.


RESULTS: NASCAR Sprint Cup Series; Coors Light Pole Qualifying; Auto Club Speedway; March 18, 2016

  1. Austin Dillon
  2. Kevin Harvick
  3. Denny Hamlin
  4. Ryan Newman
  5. Carl Edwards
  6. Kyle Busch
  7. Trevor Bayne
  8. Chase Elliott
  9. Joey Logano
  10. Jamie McMurray
  11. AJ Allmendinger
  12. Kasey Kahne
  13. Paul Menard
  14. Ryan Blaney
  15. Brad Keselowski
  16. Chris Buescher
  17. Martin Truex Jr.
  18. Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
  19. Jimmie Johnson
  20. Matt Kenseth
  21. Brian Scott
  22. Greg Biffle
  23. Casey Mears
  24. Brian Vickers
  25. Aric Almirola
  26. Kurt Busch
  27. Dale Earnhardt Jr.
  28. Regan Smith
  29. Clint Bowyer
  30. Michael McDowell
  31. Danica Patrick
  32. Kyle Larson
  33. Matt DiBenedetto
  34. Landon Cassill
  35. David Ragan
  36. Cole Whitt
  37. Josh Wise
  38. Michael Annett
  39. Jeffrey Earnhardt


About the Writer

Kyle Souza is an aspiring Journalism major at the Roger Williams University in Bristol, R.I.  Souza is Race Chaser Online’s New England motorsports insider, covering everything from the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour to the NASCAR Whelen All American Series and the PASS North Super Late Models.

When not writing, Souza works at the Seekonk Speedway as the track’s Friday night public address announcer and press writer, and is also the Media Director for both the Granite State Pro Stock Series and the Tri Track Open Modified Series.

Email Kyle at: kylesouza34@gmail.com

Follow on Twitter: @Kouza34

Email Race Chaser Online: news@racechaseronline.com

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