Austin Cindric was one of only a few drivers who qualified without issue to score the NASCAR Cup Series pole at Auto Club Speedway.
Cindric went to the top of the board at 174.647 mph (41.22s) in the second and final round of single-car qualifying. It is the first career pole for Cindric, who rolls into Fontana with momentum after winning the Daytona 500.
“I would say the last time I approached a qualifying session having to talk myself into my own lap as much as I had to today was back when I raced USF2000 in 2013 or 2014 when we went to IRP the night before the (Indy) 500,” Cindric said. “I know that’s probably gibberish to the entire NASCAR fan base, but that’s what today reminded me of. There’s so much learning and so much going on, and it’s all happening really fast.
“Obviously, as a driver, you can’t be distracted by the crashes, the mistakes, the short amount of time. But I had all the data I needed today to learn what I needed to and go apply it. It’s fun to be able to do that. It’s easy for me to be happy and smiling about it, but there’s a lot of guys that had a pretty rough day and put a lot of teams in some pretty tough spots for the West Coast swing. But overall, pretty awesome, pretty dramatic. I thought my lap wasn’t going to stand. I thought my (Turns) 1 and 2 was money, and my 3 and 4 was a bit conservative because my 1 and 2 was money, so I didn’t talk myself going deeper. Just an awesome couple of days. Awesome way to start things out. I don’t think it guarantees anything for the race, but it’s certainly a lot of fun to be able to go through that.”
Erik Jones will join Cindric on the front row after going second fastest at 174.157 mph.
Kyle Busch qualified third at 173.758 mph, with Denny Hamlin qualified fourth at 173.373 mph. Rounding out the top five qualifiers was Daniel Hemric at 173.139 mph. Ryan Blaney was sixth at 173.127 mph.
Joey Logano qualified seventh at 170.628 mph, but he tagged the wall with the right rear off Turn 4. Logano clocked in a time but was one of four drivers who had an incident in the final round of qualifying.
Three drivers did not clock a time in the final qualifying round because they spun during their efforts. But all three kept their cars off the wall.
Brad Keselowski spun off Turn 2 while Hendrick Motorsports teammates William Byron and Chase Elliott spun off Turn 4. In the first qualifying round, Aric Almirola went for a long slide in Turn 4.
The qualifying procedure for Auto Club Speedway split the field in two, as was done in practice. Group A, which practiced first, also made their single-car qualifying runs first. Then Group B drivers made their qualifying runs.
The fastest five drivers from each group advanced to the final round to run for the pole.
Four drivers did not attempt a qualifying lap.
Kurt Busch was not permitted to qualify after his car failed pre-qualifying inspection three times. Kevin Harvick, Ross Chastain and Darrell Wallace Jr. did not take to the track after crashes in practice.
Under the new practice and qualifying procedures, teams who go to the garage during practice cannot come back out to make a qualifying run. Harvick, Chastain, and Wallace’s teams went to the garage due to their practice incidents.
In Chastain’s case, Chip Ganassi Racing is preparing a backup car for Sunday. Wallace and Harvick’s teams are fixing their primary cars.