FONTANA, Calif. – Saturday afternoon nearly saw a Hollywood ending to NASCAR Cup Series qualifying at Auto Club Speedway, except Clint Bowyer didn’t get the script.
Bowyer edged out hometown hero and seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson, who is in his final full-time season, for the Busch Pole Award ahead of the Auto Club 400 on Sunday at the two-mile oval.
The Stewart-Haas Racing veteran turned a lap of 40.086 seconds (179.614 mph) with the No. 14 Rush Truck Centers/Haas CNC Ford Mustang for his fourth career Cup Series pole and first of the season.
It’s Bowyer’s second pole in the last 13 races, dating back to last fall at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
While some said Bowyer may have benefited from a well-timed cloud on his lap, the Emporia, Kan., native was quick to disagree.
“I was freaking out actually that the sun kept coming out, because you know the track’s building temperature when that keeps happening,” Bowyer noted. “You could see in the SMT data that everyone kept getting looser and looser down in (turns) one and two, and I was no exception. I knew coming to the green was important. You try to stay up high, try to get up through the gearbox as well as you can, and that’s what made the difference down there in (turns) one and two. She just kind of slid in there and got loose and it stuck right there and away it went.
“The 48 (Johnson) … I was thinking that if it came down to getting beat by the last car on the race track, I was going to freak out. Sure enough, thanks to the SMT data, I saw him pull up by me getting into (turns) three and four and actually pass me,” Bowyer added. “I’m sure he wished he would’ve moved down on the front-straightaway a little bit more, but we got a pole, baby. I’m looking forward to tomorrow; it’s going to be a hell of a race.”
Johnson will join Bowyer on the front row Sunday, an important place considering his wife and daughters are the honorary starters for the event and one of his longtime friends is the honorary pace car driver.
“It’s super special. I wish we were one spot further ahead, though,” Johnson admitted. “Clearly, off of turn four, I ran a little more distance to the start-finish (line). It’s such a fine balance to try to understand how much you can open the wheel and let the engine run. Clearly, I did a little too much, but it’s just the competitor in me.
“This is a very special weekend for me and I can’t wait to see my girls up in the flag stand waving that green flag on Sunday.”
Alex Bowman and Kurt Busch will share the second row of the grid on Sunday, stacking three Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LEs between the Ford Mustangs of Bowyer and Kevin Harvick, who qualified fifth.
Aric Almirola, Joey Logano, Michael McDowell, Kyle Larson and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. completed the top 10 in qualifying at Auto Club Speedway.
Kyle Busch, the fastest Toyota driver in the field, starts 17th on Sunday. His Daytona 500-winning teammate, Denny Hamlin, rolls off from the 28th starting position.
Martin Truex Jr. was not permitted to take a timed lap after his No. 19 Toyota Camry failed pre-qualifying inspection three times. He will start from last in the 38-car field for Sunday’s 400-mile race.
Sunday’s Auto Club 400 goes green at 3:30 p.m. ET, live on FOX, the Motor Racing Network and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio, channel 90.
To view complete qualifying results, advance to the next page.